ATW Editor's Blog

Delta’s Anderson marches to the beat of his own drum

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True to form, Delta Air Lines’ CEO Richard Anderson continues to do things a little differently from the crowd.

Today’s announcement that Delta will quit membership of A4A is stunning at one level; Delta is the second largest carrier in the US – indeed, in the world – and a heavyweight in the industry association that advocates on safety, security and regulatory issues on behalf of its 11 airline members and one associate member (Air Canada).

On another level, however, it’s a typical move by the maverick Anderson, who has taken his airline into the oil business by buying a refinery in Pennsylvania, initiated the campaign against Gulf carrier expansion in the US (under their countries Open Skies agreements with the US), and stayed on the other side of the fence on US ATM privatization despite a growing consensus among airlines and industry that this is the way to go.

While the differences on the ATM issue may have crystalized Anderson’s thinking on whether the airline’s $5 million annual dues for A4A membership were worthwhile, my guess is that the final decision was cumulative. Anderson and his top team think of Delta as a business first, just one that happens to fly planes. It’s that out-of-the-box thinking that has turned the carrier around on so many levels, not least financially, and gained Delta’s leadership enormous admiration from its employees. And it has probably led to the thinking that Delta can now stand on its own feet when it comes to lobbying.  At the end of the day, of course, the company will continue to benefit from any industry-wide regulatory gains that A4A makes … but without the bill.

Which raises the question, is A4A endangered by Delta’s exit? In the near term, no (and Delta will stay until the end of April 2016). American Airlines chairman and CEO Doug Parker, who is serving as A4A’s current chairman, issued a statement after the announcement strongly defending the role of A4A as a conduit for “a unified voice in Washington” and saying American was “committed to working with A4A to achieve reform at the highest levels”. So the leader of the world’s largest airline sees the benefit and there’s no indication whatsoever that others will follow Delta’s path to the exit door.

But it doubtless stings to no longer have all four of the US consolidated majors (American, Delta, Southwest and United) in the association, financially and representatively.

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