United Airlines CEO Glenn Tilton said unfair government regulations have hampered U.S. air carriers' ability to remain competitive and weather the impact of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, rising fuel costs and other hardships.
Speaking at the Town Hall Los Angeles forum on Wednesday, Tilton said the company is preparing to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in a few months in a "much stronger position to seize growth opportunities as we move forward."
But he said United and other carriers' efforts to emerge from similar financial straits continue to be constrained by government regulations.
"No matter how well United or any U.S. carrier transforms its business, none of us will be as strong as we should be — much less in a position to compete in the emerging global aviation industry — if there's no change to the regulatory environment in which we operate," Tilton said.
Delta Air Lines Inc. and Northwest Airlines Corp. filed for bankruptcy protection last week. United, the nation's second-largest airline, filed for bankruptcy in 2002.
The airline industry as a whole has been stung by surging costs for jet fuel in recent months, a situation aggravated when Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast. The financial hit from soaring fuel costs follows other shocks the industry has endured in recent years, such as the Sept. 11 terror attacks and the SARS epidemic in Asia.
Tilton said U.S. carriers might have been better prepared to manage such events if it wasn't for regulations that restrict "meaningful consolidation."
By comparison, Tilton said, major carriers like Air France and KLM have combined to form "supercarriers."
"Without a coherent U.S. aviation policy that reverses the bias against airline size and removes the barriers that prevent us from constructive consolidation, U.S. carriers will be unable to compete on a global scale and we risk being marginalized," Tilton said.
Earlier Wednesday, UAL Corp., United Airlines' parent company, reported a $30 million net loss for August, citing continuing high costs for its 33-month-old bankruptcy reorganization and the spike in fuel prices.
The company said in its monthly operating report filed with U.S. Bankruptcy Court that it had an operating profit last month of $80 million versus a $12 million operating loss a year earlier.