Hawaiian Airlines/Mesa Air Group Decision: Our Second Take


Just a couple of comments about the decision that was handed down late yesterday by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Faris in the case of Hawaiian Airlines versus Mesa Air Group.

Last night — on first blush, I thought Judge Faris had essentially split the difference in terms of what the airline had requested with his award of $80 million.

Not right. Not at all.

In reading through his decision more carefully today, it is clear that Judge Faris gave Hawaiian every single penny it asked for. According to Samuel Engel’s testimony from SH&E during the trial, the airline was due $71 million in damages for the period up until August. Tack on additional costs for the months of September and most of October, and that is where the $80 million figure comes in.

In the trial, Hawaiian was asking for a total of $173 million, but the rest of that amount was based on “speculation” for future losses.  In other words, it was an amount based on future go! operations.

So, in other words, Hawaiian Airlines is now free to sue Mesa again — for additional damages — for an additional period of time.

Today, Hawaiian said that it was now looking at its options in that regard.

Remember also that at the end of last quarter, Mesa had $250 million in cash in the bank. Based on that total, the judgment represents almost 1/3 of the airline’s available cash. To put it another way, if American Airlines were to face a similar damages judgment, the total would be comparable to a $1.7 billion award.

Not chicken feed. No matter how you look at it.

So — essentially Judge Faris not only delivered a ruling that was scathing of Mesa Air Group and its management, but he gave Hawaiian Airlines every penny it asked for.

But that was not the only “cost” to Mesa.

Remember that Aloha Airlines has its own anti-trust case coming up against Mesa next spring. In regards to that case, I think it would be fair to say that this trial succeeded in getting a great deal of information into the public record that the attorneys for Aloha can now use.

Just one additional tidbit. Aloha’s case is an anti-trust case. That means that any damages that could be potentially awarded to Aloha would be “trebled” or tripled – in plain English.

As for the market reaction, shares of Mesa fell 9% today, closing at $4.65, while shares of Hawaiian skyrocketed — both on the Mesa news and strong third quarter numbers. Shares here closed up 17% to $5.15.

Ticker: (Mesa:Nasdaq), (HA:AMEX)

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