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Fri, Feb 20, 2009

Alaska Airlines Won't Discount Merger Plans

Delta Alliance Fuels Rumors Of Possible Buyout

Three months after announcing a significant codeshare and marketing alliance with Delta Air Lines, officials at Alaska Airlines say they'd consider a merger with another airline if the right deal were made.

Officials hastened to add, however, that Alaska wants to remain independent and sees no immediate need to rush into a partnership. "Every year there's been a rumor about who is going to buy Alaska and here we are doing well as an independent company," Alaska Airlines CEO Bill Ayer told The Associated Press.

As ANN reported, Delta and Alaska announced an agreement to expand the marketing agreement between both carriers, to make the airlines preferred alliance partners on the West Coast... an area where Delta, the world's largest airline following last year's merger with Northwest, is relatively weak. The alliance gave Delta codeshare access to over 50 destinations out of Los Angeles, and over 100 new destinations from Portland and Seattle.

At the time, Delta CEO Richard Anderson said he had not talked with Alaska's CEO about a possible merger... but since then, Delta hasn't commented further on the matter. On Wednesday, Ayer said of mergers "no company can rule that out" in these challenging economic times.

"You don't know where the world is headed," he added. While stressing Alaska enjoys being an independent entity, Ayer also stated "If there is a better alternative, we will look at that alternative."

Alaska's Chief Operating Officer, Ben Minicucci, was more succinct. "If we run the company the way we're supposed to, we'll remain independent."

In fact, it's Alaska's relatively strong economic performance that has attracted merger buzz. Stock in Alaska Air Group is trading near its 52-week high, an anomaly given the performance of most airline stocks right now. The airline has also posted an annual profit -- albeit one adjusted for certain losses in some years -- since FY 2004.

FMI: www.alaskaairlines.com, www.delta.com

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