Which airlines have most financial staying power?

Revenue for last 12 months: $3.6 billionDebt: $2.8 billionUnrestricted cash and short-term investments: $990 millionUnrestricted cash as a percentage of revenue for last 12 months: 27.4%

Strengths

Strong cash positionLowest costs among the seven conventional network airlinesStrong market position in the Pacific Northwest and West Coast niche market

Weaknesses

Limited assets that can be used to raise cash

Limited geographic market reach

Potential cash sources

Horizon Air regional airline subsidiary

Continental

The fourth-largest U.S. carrier by revenue, Continental is seeking government approval for a new marketing alliance with United Airlines.

Financials

Revenue from latest 12 months: $15 billion

Debt: $2.8 billion

Unrestricted cash and short-term investments: $3.4 billion

Unrestricted cash as a percentage of revenue for latest 12 months: 23.2%

Strengths

Strong cash position for its size

Houston hub serves booming energy market; Newark hub serves huge New York market and is a major access point to Europe

One of the youngest fleets among the big carriers

Weaknesses

Little equity in planes, limiting ability to raise cash through sale/lease-back deals

Minimal presence in major foreign destinations such as London, Paris, Tokyo

Potential cash sources

Airport gates and facilities, and international route rights could be sold or collateralized for cash

Delta

The USA's third-largest airline by revenue emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization last year and is waiting for government approval to merge with Northwest Airlines.

Financials

Revenue for latest 12 months: $20.2 billion

Debt: $10.9 billion

Unrestricted cash and short-term investments: $3.2 billion

Unrestricted cash as a percentage of revenue for latest 12 months:16.1%

Strengths

Operating costs lowered via Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2005-2007, though still among the highest

Refocused route network to increase international service and reduce domestic flying

Powerful Atlanta hub is complemented by East Coast shuttle, Salt Lake hub and most U.S.-Europe service of any airline.

Weaknesses

U.S. route system still heavily dependent on smaller markets, where revenue often doesn't cover operating costs

Exposure to lower-fare competition from AirTran in Atlanta

Merger with Northwest would create a short-term cash drain before benefits appear.

Potential cash sources

Airplanes: Substantial value in wide-body fleet for sale/lease-back deals

Other assets: Maintenance division, Comair regional carrier subsidiary and equity stakes in other regional carriers, and SkyMiles frequent-flier program

Northwest

The fifth-largest U.S. airline by revenue, it's counting on a merger with Delta to form the world's largest carrier, topping American.

Financials

Revenue for latest 12 months: $13.2 billion

Debt: $9.9 billion

Unrestricted cash and short-term investments: $3.2 billion

Unrestricted cash as a percentage of revenue for latest 12 months: 24.5%

Strengths

A premier U.S.-Asia route system

No. 2 in unit revenue thanks to international network popular with business travelers and strong hubs in Detroit and Minneapolis-St. Paul that face relatively little competition from low-fare carriers

Large fleet of high-capacity wide-body jets

Weaknesses

Highest unit costs among big airlines despite bankruptcy reorganization in 2005-2007

History of difficult labor-management relations; integration with Delta could be contentious

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