American, he said, is already too big to merge with a rival, and others point out that it is still smarting from a difficult 2000 merger with TWA. Northwest, Mr. Jenkins said, is afraid of the labor and integration challenges of merging two different airlines. Among the others that may sit out any deal-making are Southwest Airlines and JetBlue, according to Mr. Jenkins.
Asked what carriers might not participate in the next round of consolidation, Mr. Parker mentioned American and Continental, saying their costs are not low enough. "I think it would be harder for them because they still have work to do on their own restructuring," he said.
However, both Delta and Northwest would fit well with US Airways' existing network, some said. Both would give US Airways a stronger international presence, with Delta strong across the Atlantic and to Latin America while Northwest owning prized routes to and from the Far East.
But Colorado airline consultant Mike Boyd claims Delta is not interested in a merger. " I know they are not," he said. "The chairman of Delta told me that they are not."
United, Mr. Boyd said, is the only carrier actively looking for a partner, now that it is out of bankruptcy. Senior management "is trying to shop the company," he said. But "that doesn't mean we need consolidation and it doesn't mean it will work."
Nor would a merger of Delta and US Airways make sense, he said, calling it a "major mess" bringing together fleet types and unions that are too different. "It looks good on paper, but in reality it doesn't work," he said.
Still, Mr. Jenkins is convinced that Mr. Parker wants to build the nation's largest airline -- through mergers -- and that the union of US Airway and America West was just the first step.
"He definitely wants to make himself bigger," he said of Mr. Parker. Mr. Parker did the US Airways deal because "he wanted to be ahead of the power curve. He has always made it clear this is what he wants."
Asked yesterday if his long-term goal was to create the nation's largest airline, Mr. Parker deflected the question by saying, "we want to be the nation's best air carrier and that doesn't necessarily mean the biggest."
He made it clear that his priority now is the completion of the US Airways-America West union, which could wrap up in 2007. "But what we have learned so far is there is a lot of value to be had by taking two airlines and putting them together," he said.