American gets into fighting shape in bankruptcy

While these moves are encouraging, what still remains to be seen is how the new management team approaches labor negotiations.

By Trefis Dec 28, 2011 1:32PM
Image: Airline (© Christie & Cole/Corbis)The ball seems to be rolling at American Airlines, owned by AMR Corp. (AMR), as the airline looks to shake up management to get its house in order.

It has been a busy month for the Fort Worth, Texas company after it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in November.

In its first move after the filing, American streamlined its senior leadership team. Two of the most notable changes were in the employee relations and flight operations departments -- areas that have been American's constant headache in the past few years. And Tom Horton -- the earlier president of AMR -- took the additional jobs of chairman and CEO.

The move is not very surprising though, as shuffling management is the first step most companies are likely to take when restructuring. 

See full Trefis analysis for American Airlines here

American Airlines Stock

In another move that could well define the start of overhauling the entire aging fleet, American got permission this month from a special U.S. Bankruptcy Judge in Manhattan to pursue a deal with Boeing (BA) to buy 32 planes through 2012.

American now has a pending order of new 737-800 and 737 MAX planes from Boeing, along with some A320neo jets from Airbus. American also secured permission to reject leases on some of the older aircraft. While it did not disclose the amount involved, most of this excess leased equipment is not in service and is "languishing in expensive storage space without generating any value."

While these moves are encouraging, what still remains to be seen is how the new management team approaches labor negotiations. It's the elephant in the room, and unless American can rationalize its industry-leading labor costs, it will have to fight really hard to be competitive again with legacy peers, including Delta (DAL) and United Continental (UAL), and low-cost carriers alike.

Note that the Trefis analysis for American Airlines reflects a pre-bankruptcy equity valuation for the firm and was considered cautiously, as many items, including the profitability of operations and indirect costs, could change substantially post-bankruptcy.

It's too early in the process to make assumptions on American's equity value exiting bankruptcy as the carrier will renegotiate items like its legacy-defined benefit plans, future labor contracts and debt structure.

These steps should make the airline more competitive going forward and could improve the long term outlook for the airline. Given the current uncertainty and limited information at this point, we caution investors from relying on the presented data and analysis as an accurate value of the airline going forward.



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