High-Flying Merger Mania

Correspondent Bob Orr reports on merger madness in the airline industry. There could be yet another new one, he has learned.

Here's the way one veteran airline analyst puts it: "Everybody is talking to everybody!"

It sure seems that way. We learned today that Northwest Airlines and Delta Airlines are the latest partners to take the floor at the great airline consolidation dance.

It's not a done deal. But, sources say Northwest and Delta, which both filed for bankruptcy on the same day sixteen months ago, have been talking for weeks about a possible deal.

It's not clear if the two struggling carriers are looking to hook up in a full-blown merger or some kind of strategic alliance that falls short of a corporate marriage. But, what is clear is that Delta is looking for just about any weapon it can find to fend off the unfriendly take-over bid by US Airways, which is now dangling $10 billion in front of Delta's hungry creditors.

While Delta publicly insists if would prefer to keep flying solo, it seems the airline would welcome Northwest to the co-pilot seat if that would leave US Airways back at the gate.

But, that's not the end of this high-flying merger madness. There continues to be speculation about a possible union of United and Continental. In addition, AirTran Airways, which took a run at Midwest Airlines last fall, is still looking for a date.

And analysts fear we may just be seeing the opening bids in a wholesale aviation auction that reduces the numbers of airlines, routes, and passenger seats, and raises the frustrations and ticket prices for the 600-million plus Americans who fly every year.