British Airways and Spainâ€™s Iberia have gone into an $8 billion merger to create the worldâ€™s third-largest airline by revenue, bringing a tie-up with American Airlines a step closer.
The merger, which the pair hope to complete by December, is designed to help BA and Iberia stem over USD$1 billion of combined annual losses following the worst industry downturn in decades.
The combined group, to be majority owned by BA shareholders, ends the British companyâ€™s long pursuit of Iberia and positions the companies for further consolidation.
BA, Iberia and American, members of the Oneworld Alliance, want to deepen the pact to take advantage of the US/EU â€œOpen Skiesâ€ agreement, which liberalises transatlantic aviation.
â€œThe tie-up with American is the next thing on BA and Iberiaâ€™s agenda now and this agreement brings that closer but they are probably looking at European and Asian carriers too,â€ said Davy Stockbrokers analyst Stephen Furlong.
â€œThere are too many airlines in the world and bigger will be better in the future. BA will hope that this is the start of many more tie-ups.â€
Iberia boss Antonio Vazquez, who will chair the merged International Airlines Group, said the combined firm aimed to â€œparticipate in future industry consolidation.â€
â€œThe name itself reflects a longer term intention to add more airlines without favouring any one company,â€ said Societe Generale analyst Jonathan Wober.
The merger will combine BAâ€™s strong position in north Atlantic traffic with Iberiaâ€™s Latin American business, which could be reinforced by the planned American Airlines alliance.
BA and Iberiaâ€™s target to save EUR 400 million of annual costs by the end of the fifth year will involve cutting jobs and less profitable short-haul flights.
BA cabin crew recently went on strike over pay and jobs, threatening the companyâ€™s future, the airline said.
â€œIâ€™d imagine the EUR 400 million is a low-ball figure, but with BA union action they canâ€™t be much more aggressive at this point. The whole reason behind this merger is revenue and cost synergies,â€ said an analyst in Spain who asked not to be named.