Generally, I try not to get caught up in too much conjecture about the goings-on of one airline or the next, since it is all speculation in the end. But on the issue of Northwest, I think it is worth a bit of clarification.
The talk surrounding NW wasn’t about whether CO needed NW or not, frankly I think CO likes the position they are in vis a vis their alliance with NW and KL (even though the NW product just does not stack up to CO on long haul—but I digress).
NW has problems of a different sort which is attributed to them and not attributed to their decisions. First we all admit they have old airplanes. Some believe the DC-9 strategy was a great success others do not. I tend to agree the former. The DC-9’s have taken some weight penalties in order for them to get their engines upgraded, therefore they don’t have the range they used to and doesn’t allow for quick changes to schedules and capacity shifting. CO can send a 73G or even a 733 instead of a 738 on a transcon flight without crew problems or flight penalties since the fleet is very flexible. DC-9’s can’t make it to the West Coast, or even much past the halfway mark. NW’s only choice is to fly A320’s of bigger. That entails crew swaps, catering issues. In addition they are not Stage IV compliant, and my understanding is they can’t be. Therefore NW has to buy new airplanes. They have no choice, so the DC-9 program only delayed the inevitable.
Now the hard part, NW can’t afford to buy new planes. Not based on reasons generally expressed here about cash positions etc., the banks won’t lend them money at favorable interest rates. The reason for this is the tenuous position airlines are in at the moment financially (too much risk), also if God forbid there was another terrorist attack, the risk of losing the plane becomes a bit higher, also reflected in a higher interest rates. The rates are so high at the moment, NW can’t get anyone to lend them money to finance new aircraft purchases. Hence the double end of the sword; they have to buy new planes, but can’t.
That is NW’s biggest problem at the moment.
Also on the ownership vs. lease arguments, it is a lot easier to flush out your capacity when you can hand back planes to lenders rather than parking brand new planes in the desert that you still have to pay for since the used plane market is crap. Trust me, nobody is going to want those DC-9s after Stage IV is passed. Point is mute.