The Daily Parker

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Maybe the lawsuit wasn't universally predicted

...but the Department of Justice suing to block the American-US Airways merger was sure stupid. Cranky Flyer gives them a Crazy Jackass award:

It really does appear that DOJ has gone off the rails. The best way to sum up the argument is that airlines should all be punished for trying to be successful enterprises. The complaint is filled with talk about how capacity has shrunk and fares have risen. They think this merger will result in more of the same. But what they’ve failed to recognize is that the airline industry of the past was a sickly mess. You had too many cooks in the kitchen and some of them had the cooking skills of a 12-year-old. So airlines pushed in too much capacity just to gain market share, then they had to discount fares and nobody made money. It was a mess.

Apparently the DOJ likes that plan. It’s sad to think this is how the government looks at private industry. If you want to decide that the airline industry is a public utility, then go all-in and fully regulate it. (Fares will rise, but I would respect the argument.) Otherwise, this nanny-state-style semi-regulation will keep the industry from ever becoming truly healthy.

The Economist takes a more sober view, but still doesn't think the suit makes sense:

The DoJ suit mentions the likely loss of US Airways’ low fares, known as Advantage Fares, which undercut those of American, Delta and United on one-stop trips and which have prompted US Airways’ competitors to reduce their prices. The DoJ has been scrutinising the merger since January, a month before it was announced publicly. Last week the European Commission nodded the deal through after a minor concession on slots at London’s Heathrow. But the DoJ said the merger would take consolidation too far, leaving four airlines controlling over 80% of the American market.

Doug Parker, the chief executive of US Airways, still hopes the deal can be completed before the end of the year. If it is not, American will struggle longer to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy, as it would have to assemble and seek court approval for a new rescue plan. The existing one was relatively generous to creditors and shareholders, leaving the latter with a stake in the merged carrier. If the courts uphold the DoJ’s view, some observers think it will have the effect of intensifying the dominant position of United and Delta, leading to more losses and later pressure for more mergers—an unintended consequence of the DoJ’s stance.

The DoJ has come down firmly on the way to solve the consolidation problem that will result in the worst deal for consumers. Having three giant airlines doesn't end competition, but it does make it easier to circumvent existing competition rules. The DoJ should concentrate on the actual effects of the proposed arrangement, not on its hypothetical effects, especially when their hypotheses don't actually have a lot of evidence supporting them.

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