AIRLINES

Miami-Dade mayor: American Airlines merger good for MIA

 

hsampson@MiamiHerald.com

American Airlines and US Airways already have said they will suffer if a Justice Department move to block their planned merger is successful. Now Miami-Dade County’s mayor is saying Miami International Airport would also be a loser.

Mayor Carlos Gimenez held a press conference Wednesday at MIA with Aviation Director Emilio González to urge the U.S. Department of Justice to reconsider its opposition to the merger. The department filed an antitrust lawsuit last week to block the plan to create the world’s largest airline, and American’s anticipated exit from bankruptcy has been put on hold.

“From our vantage point, the anticipated merger of two of our nation’s legacy carriers would have an undeniably positive effect on our community: more jobs for our residents, new routes and greater access for locals and visitors to take advantage of, and increased opportunities for commercial activity via an expanded network,” Gimenez wrote in a letter sent Tuesday to Attorney General Eric Holder.

Gimenez also called for Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi to reverse course; Florida joined the federal suit along with five other states and Washington, D.C.

A spokeswoman for Bondi released a statement that said: “Our office, along with the Department of Justice, spoke with the Miami-Dade Aviation Department about the merger on April 4, 2013. This lawsuit is a bipartisan effort by a group of states and the DOJ working together to protect consumers.”

While a representative for the Justice Department could not be reached for comment Wednesday, the agency has said in the past that the merger would lead to higher fares, increased fees and fewer options for travelers. The DOJ approved major airline mergers in recent years, but authorities there have expressed concern that only three legacy carriers would remain if American and US Airways joined forces.

González said the airport’s success depends on a thriving American Airlines, which carries about 70 percent of passengers with regional airline American Eagle. He said the airport’s bond rating could be harmed if a merger isn’t allowed, and called the Justice Department’s stance “a very unfair attitude toward our largest partner here at MIA.”

“We’re not going to allow decisions to be made far away from here that have a direct effect on this business,” González said. “American Airlines has robust plans for the future. The merger with US Air will bring those robust plans directly to this airport.”

American has said a new combined airline would keep Miami as a major hub and grow traffic to and from the gateway city.

But Gimenez fears that if American is forced to stand alone, competitors such as United and Delta — which have already been allowed to become stronger through mergers — would benefit. He said that could lead to Miami’s losing important international flights to those airlines’ hubs in Houston and Atlanta.

The mayor said American did not ask him to take a public position on the merger; rather, he said he called them and asked if it would be beneficial. The airline released a statement in response to a Miami Herald question Wednesday afternoon.

“We applaud Mayor Gimenez’s initiative,” American Airlines spokeswoman Martha Pantín said in an email. “We appreciate Miami-Dade County’s continued strong support of American Airlines and are glad to know that the leadership in the county, including Aviation Department Director Emilio González, agree that the merger is the best path forward for both airlines and the customers and communities we serve.”

While American is by far the largest carrier at MIA, Gimenez pointed out that there are plenty of other carriers in the sky.

“There are 80 airlines in this airport by itself and we have a competitive airport right up the street in Fort Lauderdale,” he said. “They have low-cost carriers in JetBlue, etc., etc., so the argument that this is somehow going to lead to higher prices ... you know, if there are maybe one or two airlines left in the world, I would say, ‘Yeah, maybe you’re right.’ But in this airport alone there’s 80, so maybe there’s going to be 79 after it’s all said and done.”

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