Bankruptcy and low cost carrier expansion in the airline industry
This paper studies how financial distress affects competition and how incumbent bankruptcy affects the growth of rivals, specifically in the context of airline bankruptcies. I begin by studying whether bankrupt airlines put competitive pressures on rivals by cutting fares and maintaining or expanding capacity on the 1000 most popular domestic routes from 1998-2008. The results suggest that, although bankrupt legacy airlines reduce fares, they also reduce capacities significantly. Low-cost carrier (LCC) rivals do not match the fare cuts and expand capacities by 13-18% above trend growth. The significant capacity reductions associated with legacy airline bankruptcies create growth opportunities for LCC rivals. This indicates the existence of barriers that have limited LCCs from expanding faster and more extensively. The LCC expansion during rivals' bankruptcies is even greater when I consider the 200 most popular airports instead of the 1000 most popular routes. During legacy airlines' bankruptcy, non-LCC rivals reduce capacities on the routes affected by the bankruptcy but expand at the affected airports. A likely explanation for this result is that non-LCCs avoid 'bankruptcy' routes as more competitive pressure is expected with increasing presence of LCCs, but they pick up the gates or time slots given up by the bankrupt airlines to expand on other routes. On balance the total route capacity on the 1000 popular routes shows only a modest decrease during bankruptcy and eventually recovers, but the capacity mix changes in favor of LCCs. Overall, I find little evidence that distressed airlines toughen competition and lower industry profitability. LCC's capacity growth during legacy rivals' bankruptcy suggests the existence of market frictions in competition.
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