Alaska Air Group has recently announced the acquisition of Hawaiian Airlines in a deal worth $1.9 billion. This move sets the stage for another potential regulatory battle in the airline industry, marking the second proposed merger in less than two years. The deal includes Alaska paying $18 per share for Hawaiian and taking on $900 million of its debt. While the news has caused a surge in Hawaiian’s stock, there are several challenges and uncertainties ahead for both companies.
Hawaiian Airlines has faced significant challenges in recent years, leading to a decline in its market capitalization. Factors such as the Maui wildfires, increased competition from Southwest Airlines, and the slow recovery of travel to and from Asia after the pandemic have all played a role in the airline’s struggles. Hawaiian has posted net losses in nearly every quarter since the beginning of 2020. In contrast, Alaska Airlines and other carriers have managed to stabilize their financial positions as the pandemic subsides.
Shane Tackett, CFO of Alaska Airlines, stated that the decision to acquire Hawaiian Airlines was driven by a unique opportunity in terms of valuation. Additionally, the deal positions the combined companies as a dominant player in the premium-travel Hawaii market. The market reacted positively to the news, resulting in a significant increase in Hawaiian’s stock price. However, Alaska’s shares experienced a decline, highlighting the uncertainties surrounding the merger.
One of the main challenges that Alaska and Hawaiian may face is navigating through the regulatory process. In recent years, airline mergers have encountered strong opposition from the Justice Department under President Joe Biden’s administration. The Justice Department successfully disrupted a regional partnership between JetBlue Airways and American Airlines and filed a lawsuit to block JetBlue Airways’ acquisition of Spirit Airlines. The outcome of the trial remains uncertain, and this raises concerns about the regulatory approval of the Alaska-Hawaiian deal.
The airline industry in the United States has witnessed significant consolidation over the years, with four major airlines (American, United, Delta, and Southwest) controlling about 80% of the market. This consolidation can be attributed to a series of mergers that occurred in the industry. The proposed Alaska-Hawaiian merger aims to position the combined company to directly compete with these major carriers. However, it remains to be seen whether the regulators will view this consolidation favorably, considering the potential impact on competition.
Both Alaska and Hawaiian expressed their optimism about the deal’s approval, citing numerous overlapping markets and a larger combined network. Alaska CEO Ben Minicucci stated that the merger would bring financial performance improvements and network growth. However, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, which represents cabin crews at both airlines, highlighted the importance of evaluating the deal’s impact on flight attendants’ working conditions. This indicates that there may be concerns about potential changes and challenges for employees resulting from the merger.
Following the merger, the combined company will be based in Seattle, where Alaska Airlines is headquartered. The plan is to maintain the brand identities of both carriers while operating under a single platform. The merger will give Alaska Airlines access to a fleet of 365 aircraft and enable them to expand their coverage to 138 destinations. Additionally, it will offer Hawaiian Airlines the opportunity to increase nonstop or one-stop flights from the Hawaiian islands to North American destinations. However, the integration of different aircraft types from both airlines, including Boeing and Airbus planes, may present operational challenges.
The acquisition of Hawaiian Airlines by Alaska Air Group represents a significant development in the airline industry. While the deal has the potential to create a market leader in the premium-travel Hawaii market, it also faces several obstacles. These include regulatory scrutiny, competition from major carriers, and potential concerns regarding the impact on employees. The success of the merger will depend on how Alaska and Hawaiian navigate these challenges and create a cohesive and efficient operation that benefits both shareholders and customers.