United Continental Holdings, Inc. 10-K 2009
Documents found in this filing:
UNITED STATES SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION
Washington, D.C. 20549
UAL Corporation None
United Air Lines, Inc. None
Indicate by check mark if the registrant is a well-known seasoned issuer, as defined in Rule 405 of the Securities Act.
UAL Corporation Yes þ No o
United Air Lines, Inc. Yes o No þ
Indicate by check mark if the registrant is not required to file reports pursuant to Section 13 or Section 15(d) of the Act.
UAL Corporation Yes o No þ
United Air Lines, Inc. Yes o No þ
Indicate by check mark whether the Registrant (1) has filed all reports required to be filed by Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the Registrant was required to file such reports), and (2) has been subject to such filing requirements for the past 90 days.
UAL Corporation Yes þ No o
United Air Lines, Inc. Yes þ No o
Indicate by check mark if disclosure of delinquent filers pursuant to Item 405 of Regulation S-K is not contained herein, and will not be contained, to the best of Registrants knowledge, in definitive proxy or information statements incorporated by reference in Part III of this Form 10-K or any amendment to this Form 10-K.
UAL Corporation þ
United Air Lines, Inc. þ
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a large accelerated filer, an accelerated filer, a non-accelerated filer, or a smaller reporting company. See the definitions of large accelerated filer, accelerated filer and smaller reporting company in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act. (Check one):
UAL Corporation Large accelerated filer þ Accelerated filer o Non-accelerated filer o Smaller reporting company o
United Air Lines,Inc. Large accelerated filer o Accelerated filer o Non-accelerated filer þ Smaller reporting company o
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a shell company (as defined in Rule 12b-2 of the Act).
UAL Corporation Yes o No þ
United Air Lines, Inc. Yes o No þ
The aggregate market value of voting stock held by non-affiliates of UAL Corporation was $652,389,214 as of June 30, 2008. There is no market for United Air Lines, Inc. common stock.
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has filed all documents and reports required to be filed by Section 12, 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 subsequent to the distribution of securities under a plan confirmed by a court.
UAL Corporation Yes þ No o
United Air Lines, Inc. Yes þ No o
Indicate the number of shares outstanding of each of the issuers classes of common stock, as of February 20, 2009.
UAL Corporation 143,885,823 shares of common stock ($0.01 par value)
United Air Lines, Inc. 205 (100% owned by UAL Corporation)
United Air Lines, Inc. meets the conditions set forth in General Instruction I(1)(a) and (b) of Form 10-K and is therefore filing this form with the reduced disclosure format allowed under that General Instruction.
Information required by Items 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14 of Part III of this Form 10-K are incorporated by reference for UAL Corporation from its definitive proxy statement for its 2009 Annual Meeting of Stockholders to be held on June 11, 2009.
UAL Corporation and Subsidiary Companies and
United Air Lines, Inc. and Subsidiary Companies
Report on Form 10-K
For the Year Ended December 31, 2008
UAL Corporation (together with its consolidated subsidiaries, UAL), a holding company whose principal subsidiary is United Air Lines, Inc. (together with its primary subsidiaries, United), was incorporated under the laws of the State of Delaware on December 30, 1968. We sometimes use the words we, our, us, and the Company in this Form 10-K for disclosures that relate to both UAL and United. Our world headquarters is located at 77 W. Wacker Drive, Chicago, Illinois 60601. The mailing address is P.O. Box 66919, Chicago, Illinois 60666 (telephone number (312) 997-8000).
This Annual Report on Form 10-K is a combined report of UAL and United. Unless otherwise noted, this information applies to both UAL and United. As UAL consolidates United for financial statement purposes, disclosures that relate to activities of United also apply to UAL. Most of UALs revenue and expenses in 2008 were from Uniteds airline operations. United transports people and cargo through its mainline operations, which utilize full-sized jet aircraft exceeding 70 seats in size, and its regional operations, which utilize smaller aircraft not exceeding 70 seats in size that are operated under contract by United Express® carriers.
The Companys web address is www.united.com. The information contained on or connected to the Companys web address is not incorporated by reference into this Annual Report on Form 10-K and should not be considered part of this or any other report filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Through this website, the Companys filings with the SEC, including annual reports on Form 10-K, quarterly reports on Form 10-Q, current reports on Form 8-K, and all amendments to those reports, are accessible without charge as soon as reasonably practicable after such material is electronically filed with or furnished to the SEC.
United Airlines operates nearly 3,000 flights a day on United and United Express to more than 200 U.S. domestic and international destinations from its hubs in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, Chicago and Washington, D.C., based on its annual flight schedule as of January 1, 2009. With key global air rights in the Asia-Pacific region, Europe and Latin America, United is one of the largest international carriers based in the United States. United also is a founding member of Star Alliance, the worlds largest airline network, which provides connections for our customers to approximately 900 destinations in 159 countries worldwide. United offers a unique set of products and services to target distinct customer groups, which we believe allows us to generate a revenue premium. This strategy of market and product segmentation is intended to optimize margins and costs, and is focused on delivering an improved experience for all customers and a best-in-class experience for our premium customers. These services include:
The Company also generates revenue through its Mileage Plus® Frequent Flyer Program (Mileage Plus), United Cargo SM and United Services. Mileage Plus contributed approximately $700 million to passenger and other revenue in 2008 and helps the Company attract and retain high-value customers. United Cargo generated $854 million in freight and mail revenue in 2008. United Services generated $167 million in revenue in 2008 by utilizing downtime of otherwise under-utilized aircraft maintenance resources through third-party maintenance services.
This Form 10-K contains various forward-looking statements within the meaning of Section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933, as amended, and Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended. Forward-looking statements represent the Companys expectations and beliefs concerning future events, based on information available to the Company on the date of the filing of this Form 10-K, and are subject to various risks and uncertainties. Factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from those referenced in the forward-looking statements are listed in Item 1A, Risk Factors and in Item 7, Managements Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations. The Company disclaims any intent or obligation to update or revise any of the forward-looking statements, whether in response to new information, unforeseen events, changed circumstances or otherwise.
During 2008, UALs management and its Board of Directors were active in adjusting the Companys operational plans in response to difficult industry conditions and the weakening global economy. Unprecedented increases in jet fuel prices during 2008 had a significant negative impact on our results of operations and were one of the leading factors that prompted the development of the Companys operational plans, as described in Note 2, Company Operational Plans, in Combined Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements.
The Company is taking actions to return to profitability and to strengthen liquidity, including the permanent removal of 100 aircraft from Uniteds mainline fleet; the elimination of the Ted product for leisure markets and the reconfiguration of Ted aircraft to include United First seating; the development of new revenue sources through delivery of new products and services valued by our customers; the streamlining of operations and corporate functions with a reduction of approximately 9,000 positions during 2008 and 2009; and the formation of a strategic alliance with Continental Airlines, all as further discussed in Item 7, Managements Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations.
During 2008, the Company ceased operations to Ft. Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, Florida, two markets served by Ted, which uses an all-economy seating configuration to serve primarily leisure markets. In addition, during 2008, as part of its operational plans the Company ceased operations in certain non-Ted markets and also reduced frequencies in several Ted and non-Ted markets. In light of these planned capacity reductions and other factors, the Company also determined that it would eliminate its entire B737 fleet by the end of 2009. With the reduced need for Ted aircraft in leisure markets and an increased need for narrow body aircraft in non-Ted markets due to the elimination of the B737 fleet, the Company decided to reconfigure the entire Ted fleet of all-economy Airbus aircraft to include first class, as well as Economy Plus and economy seats. The reconfigured Airbus aircraft will provide United a consistent product offering for our customers and employees, and increases our fleet flexibility to redeploy aircraft onto former Ted and other narrow body routes as market conditions change.
Overall, the Company has characterized its business approach as Focus on Five, a comprehensive set of priorities that focus on the fundamentals of running a good airline: one that runs on time, with clean planes and courteous employees, that delivers industry-leading revenues and competitive costs and does so safely. Building on this foundation, United aims to regain its industry-leading position in key metrics reported by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) as well as industry-leading revenue driven by products, services, schedules and routes that are valued by the Companys customers. The goal
of this approach is intended to enable United to achieve best-in-class safety performance, exceptional customer satisfaction and experience and industry-leading margin and cash flow.
On December 9, 2002 (the Petition Date), UAL, United, and 26 direct and indirect wholly-owned subsidiaries (collectively, the Debtors) filed voluntary petitions to reorganize their businesses under Chapter 11 of the United States Bankruptcy Code in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division (the Bankruptcy Court). On January 20, 2006, the Bankruptcy Court confirmed the Debtors Second Amended Joint Plan of Reorganization Pursuant to Chapter 11 of the United States Bankruptcy Code (the Plan of Reorganization). The Plan of Reorganization became effective and the Debtors emerged from bankruptcy protection on February 1, 2006 (the Effective Date). On the Effective Date, the Company implemented fresh-start reporting in accordance with American Institute of Certified Public Accountants Statement of Position 90-7, Financial Reporting by Entities in Reorganization under the Bankruptcy Code (SOP 90-7), resulting in significant changes as compared to the historical financial statements.
During the course of its Chapter 11 proceedings, the Company successfully reached settlements with most of its creditors and resolved most pending claims against the Debtors. However, certain significant matters remain to be resolved in the Bankruptcy Court. For further details, see Note 4, Voluntary Reorganization Under Chapter 11Significant Matters Remaining to be Resolved in Chapter 11 Cases, in Combined Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements.
Segments. The Company operates its businesses through two reporting segments: Mainline and United Express. The Company manages its business as an integrated network with assets deployed across integrated mainline and regional carrier networks. This focus on managing the business seeks to maximize the profitability of the overall airline network. Financial information on the Companys reporting segments and operating revenues by geographic regions, as reported to the DOT, can be found in Note 10, Segment Information, in Combined Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements.
Mainline. The Companys mainline operating revenues were $17.1 billion, $17.0 billion and $16.4 billion in 2008, 2007 and 2006, respectively. As of December 31, 2008, mainline domestic operations served over 80 destinations primarily throughout the U.S. and Canada and operated hubs at Chicago OHare International Airport (OHare), Denver International Airport (Denver), Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and Washington Dulles International Airport (Washington Dulles). Mainline international operations serve the Pacific, Atlantic and Latin America regions. The Pacific region includes non-stop service to Beijing, Hong Kong, Osaka, Seoul, Shanghai, Sydney and Tokyo and direct service to Bangkok, Seoul, Singapore and Taipei via Tokyo; direct service to Ho Chi Minh City and Singapore via Hong Kong and to Melbourne via Sydney. The Atlantic region includes non-stop service to Amsterdam, Brussels, Dubai, Frankfurt, Kuwait City, London, Munich, Paris, Rome and Zurich. The Latin American region offers non-stop service to Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro (seasonal non-stop) and Sao Paulo. The Latin American region also serves various Mexico destinations including Cancun, Cozumel (seasonal), Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo (seasonal), Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta and San Jose del Cabo; various Caribbean points including Aruba and seasonal service to Montego Bay, Punta Cana, and St. Maarten; and Central America including Liberia, Costa Rica (seasonal).
UALs operating revenues attributed to mainline domestic operations were $9.7 billion in 2008, $10.9 billion in 2007 and $10.0 billion in 2006. Operating revenues attributed to mainline international operations were $7.4 billion in 2008, $6.1 billion in 2007 and $6.4 billion in 2006. For purposes of the Companys geographic revenue reporting, the Company considers destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean to be part of the Latin America region as opposed to the North America region.
The mainline segment operated 409 aircraft as of December 31, 2008, and produced 135.8 billion available seat miles (ASMs) and 110.1 billion revenue passenger miles (RPMs) during 2008; in 2007, the mainline segment produced 141.9 billion ASMs and 117.4 billion RPMs.
United Express. United Express operating revenues were $3.1 billion in both 2008 and 2007 and $2.9 billion in 2006. United has contractual relationships with various regional carriers to provide regional jet and turboprop service branded as United Express. United Express is an extension of the United mainline network. Chautauqua Airlines, Colgan Airlines, Go Jet Airlines, Mesa Airlines, Shuttle America, SkyWest Airlines and Trans States Airlines are all United Express carriers, most of which operate under capacity purchase agreements. Under these agreements, United pays the regional carriers contractually-agreed fees (carrier-controlled costs) for operating these flights plus a variable reimbursement (incentive payment) based on agreed performance metrics. The carrier-controlled costs are based on specific rates for various operating expenses of the United Express carriers, such as crew expenses, maintenance and aircraft ownership, some of which are multiplied by specific operating statistics (e.g., block hours, departures) while others are fixed monthly amounts. The incentive payment is a markup applied to the carrier-controlled costs for superior operational performance. Under these capacity agreements, United is responsible for all fuel costs incurred as well as landing fees, facilities rent and deicing costs, which are passed through without any markup. In return, the regional carriers operate this capacity on schedules determined by United. United also determines pricing, revenues and inventory levels and assumes the inventory and distribution risk for the available seats.
The capacity agreements which United has entered into with United Express carriers do not include the provision of ground handling services. As a result, United Express sources ground handling support from a variety of third-party providers as well as by utilizing internal United resources in some cases.
While the regional carriers operating under capacity purchase agreements comprise over 95% of United Express flying, the Company also has limited prorate agreements with Colgan Airlines and SkyWest Airlines. Under these prorate agreements, United and its prorate partners agree to divide revenue collected from each passenger according to a formula, while both United and the prorate partners are individually responsible for their own costs of operations. United also collects a program fee from Colgan Airlines to cover certain marketing and distribution costs such as credit card transaction fees, global distribution systems (GDS) transaction fees and frequent flyer costs. Unlike capacity purchase agreements, these prorate agreements require the regional carrier to retain the control and risk of scheduling, market selection, seat pricing and inventory for its flights.
United Express carriers operated 280 aircraft as of December 31, 2008, and produced 16.2 billion ASMs and 12.1 billion RPMs during 2008, while producing 16.3 billion ASMs and 12.6 billion RPMs in 2007.
United Cargo. United Cargo offers both domestic and international shipping through a variety of services including United Small Package Delivery, Express and General cargo services. Freight shipments comprise approximately 85% of United Cargos volumes, with mail comprising the remainder. During 2008, United Cargo accounted for approximately 4% of the Companys operating revenues by generating $854 million in freight and mail revenue, an 11% increase versus 2007.
United Services. United Services is a global airline support business offering customers comprehensive aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) services which include engine and line maintenance services. United Services brings nearly 80 years of experience to serve over 100 airline customer contracts worldwide. During 2008 and 2007, United Services generated approximately $167 million and $183 million, respectively, in third-party revenue.
Fuel. The price and availability of jet fuel significantly affects the Companys results of operations. Fuel has been the Companys largest operating expense for the last several years. The Company has a risk management strategy to hedge a portion of its price risk related to projected jet fuel requirements. The Company utilizes various types of hedging instruments including purchased calls, collars, 3-way collars and 4-way collars. A collar involves the purchase of fuel call options with the simultaneous sale of
fuel put options with identical expiration dates. If fuel prices rise above the ceiling of the collar, the Companys counterparties are required to make settlement payments to the Company, while if fuel prices fall below the floor of the collars, the Company is required to make settlement payments to its fuel hedge counterparties. In addition, the Company has been and may in the future be further required to provide counterparties with cash collateral prior to settlement of the hedge positions.
In both 2008 and 2007, an increase in jet fuel prices was the primary reason for higher mainline and United Express fuel expense and aircraft fuel cost per gallon, as highlighted in the table below. The price of crude oil reached a record high of approximately $145 per barrel in July 2008 and then dramatically decreased in the second half of the year to approximately $45 per barrel at December 31, 2008. This significant fuel price volatility drove the Companys total fuel hedge losses of more than $1.1 billion in 2008. A significant portion of these losses were unrealized as of December 31, 2008 and could increase or decrease in future periods based on future changes in market prices before the related hedge contracts settle. While the Companys results of operations should benefit significantly from lower fuel prices on its unhedged fuel consumption, in the near term lower fuel prices could also significantly and negatively impact liquidity based on the amount of cash settlements and collateral that may be required.
The Company accounts for the majority of its fuel derivative contracts as economic hedges, which are marked-to-market with gains and losses classified as fuel expense. Remaining fuel derivative contracts which do not qualify for economic hedge accounting are marked-to-market with gains and losses classified as nonoperating expense. See Item 7A, Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosures About Market Risk and Note 13, Fair Value Measurements and Derivative Instruments, in Combined Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements for additional details regarding gains and losses from settled and open positions, cash settlements, unrealized amounts at the end of the period and hedge collateral. Derivative gains and losses from contracts qualifying for economic hedge accounting are recorded in mainline fuel expense and are not allocated to United Express fuel expense.
To ensure adequate supplies of fuel and to provide a measure of control over fuel costs, the Company arranges to have fuel shipped on major pipelines and stored close to its major hub locations. Although the Company currently does not anticipate a significant reduction in the availability of jet fuel, a number of factors make predicting fuel prices and fuel availability uncertain, including changes in world energy demand, geopolitical uncertainties affecting energy supplies from oil-producing nations, industrial accidents, threats of terrorism directed at oil supply infrastructure, extreme weather conditions causing temporary shutdowns of production and refining capacity, as well as changes in relative demand for other petroleum products that may impact the quantity and price of jet fuel produced from period to period.
Alliances. United has a number of bilateral and multilateral alliances with other airlines, which enhance travel options for customers seeking access to markets that United does not serve directly. These marketing alliances typically include one or more of the following features: joint frequent flyer program participation; codesharing of flight operations (whereby seats on one carriers selected flights can be marketed under the brand name of another carrier); coordination of reservations, ticketing, passenger check-in, baggage handling and flight schedules; and other resource-sharing activities.
The most significant of these arrangements is the Star Alliance, a global integrated airline network co-founded by United in 1997. As of February 1, 2009, Star Alliance carriers serve approximately 900 destinations in 159 countries with over 16,500 average daily flights. Current Star Alliance partners, in addition to United, are Air Canada, Air China, Air New Zealand, All Nippon Airways, Asiana, the Austrian Airlines Group, bmi, EgyptAir, LOT Polish Airlines, Lufthansa, SAS, Shanghai Airlines, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways, Spanair, Swiss, TAP Portugal, THAI, Turkish Airlines and US Airways. Regional member carriers are Adria Airways (Slovenia), Blue1 (Finland) and Croatia Airlines. Air India, Brussels Airlines, Continental Airlines and TAM Airlines are expected to become future members of the Star Alliance.
United also has independent marketing agreements with other air carriers including Aer Lingus, Air One, Great Lakes Aviation, Gulfstream International, Hawaiian, Island Air, Qatar Airways, TACA Group and Virgin Blue.
Continental Alliance. In 2008, United and Continental announced their plan to form a new alliance partnership that will link the airlines networks and services worldwide to the benefit of customers, employees and shareholders, creating new revenue opportunities, cost savings and other efficiencies. In addition, Continental plans to join United and its 20 other partners in the Star Alliance, the most comprehensive airline alliance in the world. During 2008, United, Continental and eight other airlines submitted a request to the DOT and applicable foreign authorities to allow Continental to join United, Air Canada, Lufthansa and six other carriers in their already established anti-trust immunized alliance. If approved, the immunity will enable United, Air Canada, Continental and Lufthansa to implement a joint venture covering transatlantic routings that would deliver highly competitive flight schedules, fares and service. In the U.S. market, where antitrust immunity would not apply, customers will benefit as United and Continental plan to begin broad codesharing, which eases travel for customers flying on itineraries using both carriers, and cooperation on frequent flyer programs and airport lounges, subject to regulatory notice and Continental exiting certain of its current alliance relationships. In addition, United and Continental are also exploring opportunities to capture important cost savings in the areas of information technology, frequent flyer programs, airport operations, lounges, procurement and sales and marketing.
Continentals and Uniteds route networks are highly complementary, with little overlap, so they add value to each other and to customers who are planning domestic and international travel. Under codesharing, customers will benefit from a coordinated process for reservations/ticketing, check-in, flight connections and baggage transfer. Frequent flyer reciprocity will allow members of Continentals OnePass program and Uniteds Mileage Plus program to earn miles in their accounts when flying on either partner airline and redeem awards on both carriers. Continentals plans to join the Star Alliance and other planned cooperation are subject to certain regulatory and other approvals and the termination of certain contractual relationships, including Continentals existing agreements with SkyTeam members that restrict its participation in another global alliance.
Mileage Plus. Mileage Plus builds customer loyalty by offering awards and services to frequent travelers. Mileage Plus members can earn mileage credit for flights on United, United Express, Ted, members of the Star Alliance and certain other airlines that participate in the program. Miles can also be earned by purchasing the goods and services of our non-airline partners, such as hotels, car rental companies and credit card issuers. Mileage credits can be redeemed for free, discounted or upgraded travel and non-travel awards. There are more than 54 million members enrolled in Mileage Plus. In 2008, 2.3 million Mileage Plus travel awards were used on United, as compared to 2.2 million in 2007
and 2.3 million in 2006. These amounts represent the number of awards for which travel was provided and not the number of available seats that were allocated to award travel. These awards represented 9.1% of Uniteds total revenue passenger miles in 2008, 8.0% in 2007 and 8.1% in 2006. In addition, Mileage Plus members redeemed miles for approximately 613,000 non-United awards in 2008 as compared to 928,000 in 2007. Non-United awards include awards such as Red Carpet club memberships, car and hotel awards, merchandise and travel solely on another air carrier. Total miles redeemed for travel on United in 2008, including travel awards and class-of-service upgrades, represented 89% of the total miles redeemed (for both completed and future travel). The Company expanded its offering of merchandise available for awards in 2009, which may increase the amount of non-travel awards.
For a detailed description of the accounting treatment of Mileage Plus program activity, which was changed to a deferred revenue model upon the adoption of fresh-start reporting on the Effective Date, see Critical Accounting Policies in Item 7, Managements Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations.
UAL Loyalty Services, LLC (ULS). ULS focuses on expanding the non-core marketing businesses of United and building airline customer loyalty. ULS operates substantially all United-branded travel distribution and customer loyalty e-commerce activities, such as united.com. In addition, ULS owns and operates Mileage Plus, being responsible for member relationships, communications and account management; while United is responsible for other aspects of Mileage Plus, including elite membership programs such as Global Services, Premier, Premier Executive and Premier Executive 1K, and the establishment of award mileage redemption programs and airline-related customer loyalty recognition policies. United is also responsible for managing relationships with its Mileage Plus airline partners, while ULS manages relationships with non-airline business partners, such as the Mileage Plus Visa Card, hotels, car rental companies and dining programs, among others.
Distribution Channels. The majority of Uniteds airline seat inventory continues to be distributed through the traditional channels of travel agencies and GDS, such as Sabre and Galileo. The growing use of alternative distribution systems, including www.united.com and GDS new entrants, provides United with an opportunity to lower its ticket distribution costs. To encourage customer use of lower-cost channels and capitalize on these cost-saving opportunities, the Company will continue to expand the capabilities of its website.
Seasonality. The air travel business is subject to seasonal fluctuations. The Companys operations can be adversely impacted by severe weather and the first and fourth quarter results of operations normally reflect lower travel demand. Historically, results of operations are better in the second and third quarters which reflect higher levels of travel demand.
Domestic Competition. The domestic airline industry is highly competitive and dynamic. In domestic markets, new and existing carriers are generally free to initiate service between any two points within the United States. Uniteds competitors consist primarily of other airlines, a number of whom are low-cost carriers (LCCs) with cost structures lower than Uniteds, and, to a lesser extent, other forms of transportation.
The rate of capacity increases in the domestic market has slowed in the past several years, but LCCs have continued expanding into markets where United flies. United has extensive experience competing directly with LCCs in its markets and believes it is well positioned to compete effectively. In response to the adverse economic conditions in 2008, United and many of its competitors implemented significant capacity reductions in both domestic and international markets.
Uniteds capacity increases (decreases) for 2008 and its forecasted 2009 capacity decreases, as compared to the year-ago periods, are summarized in the following table:
During 2008, several smaller carriers entered into either bankruptcy liquidation or reorganization proceedings. Carriers that reorganize through bankruptcy proceedings may be able to improve their cost structure making them more competitive with the rest of the industry. In addition, Delta Airlines completed its acquisition of Northwest Airlines Corporation in late 2008. This merger may enable the combined airline to improve its revenue and cost performance relative to peers and thus enhance its competitive position within the industry. It is also possible that other airline mergers or acquisitions may occur in the future.
Domestic pricing decisions are largely affected by the need to be competitive with other U.S. airlines. Fare discounting by competitors has historically had a negative effect on the Companys financial results because United often finds it necessary to match competitors fares to maintain passenger traffic. Attempts by United and other network airlines to raise fares often fail due to lack of competitive matching by LCCs; however, because of capacity constraint, the pressure of higher fuel prices and other industry conditions, some fare increases have occurred in recent years. Because of different cost structures, low ticket prices that may generate a profit for a LCC may have an adverse effect on the Companys financial results. Also, additional revenue from fuel-related fare increases may not completely offset the Companys increased cost of fuel.
International Competition. In Uniteds international networks, the Company competes not only with U.S. airlines, but also with foreign carriers. Competition on specified international routes is subject to varying degrees of governmental regulations. Recently the U.S. and European Union (EU) implemented an agreement to reduce restrictions on flight operations between the two entities. This agreement has increased competition on Uniteds transatlantic network from both U.S. and European airlines. In our Pacific operations, competition will be increasing as the governments of the U.S. and China permit more U.S. and Chinese airlines to fly new routes between the two countries, although the commencement of some new services to China has been recently postponed due to the weak global economy. See Industry Regulation, below. Part of Uniteds ability to successfully compete with non-U.S. carriers on international routes is its ability to generate traffic from and to the entire U.S. via its integrated domestic route network. Foreign carriers are currently prohibited by U.S. law from carrying local passengers between two points in the U.S. and United experiences comparable restrictions in many foreign countries. In addition, U.S. carriers are often constrained from carrying passengers to points beyond designated international gateway cities due to limitations in air service agreements or restrictions imposed unilaterally by foreign governments. To compensate for these structural limitations, U.S. and foreign carriers have entered into alliances and marketing arrangements that allow these carriers to exchange traffic between each others flights and route networks (see Alliances, above, for further details).
Economic Conditions. Airlines are highly susceptible to negative financial impacts caused by major changes in the global economy that drive sudden severe swings in costs or revenues. During 2008, the combined forces of high fuel prices, extensive competition and a severe global recession drove numerous U.S. and international carriers to file for bankruptcy and, in some cases, to liquidate. While fuel costs have significantly fallen since reaching historic highs in the summer of 2008, overall demand for airline services has decreased, and may decrease further, and the depth of, and recovery from, the global recession continues to be uncertain. As discussed further in Item 1A, Risk Factors, and in Item 7, Managements Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations, the current
economic conditions have had, and may continue to have, negative impacts on passenger demand, revenues, the level of credit card sales activity and our cargo operations. In response to these economic conditions, United and other carriers in the industry implemented significant reductions in domestic and international capacity, which are expected to continue into 2009.
Insurance. United carries hull and liability insurance of a type customary in the air transportation industry, in amounts that the Company deems appropriate, covering passenger liability, public liability and damage to Uniteds aircraft and other physical property. United also maintains other types of insurance such as property, directors and officers, cargo, workers compensation, automobile and the like, with limits and deductibles that are standard within the industry. After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the Companys insurance premiums increased significantly but have since been reduced reflecting the markets perception of risk, as well as the Companys ongoing capacity reductions. Additionally, after September 11, 2001, commercial insurers canceled Uniteds liability insurance for losses resulting from war and associated perils (terrorism, sabotage, hijacking and other similar events). The U.S. government subsequently agreed to provide commercial war-risk insurance for U.S. based airlines and has renewed this coverage on a periodic basis. The current war-risk policy is effective until March 31, 2009 and covers losses to employees, passengers, third parties and aircraft. The Secretary of Transportation may extend this coverage until May 31, 2009. If the U.S. government does not extend this coverage beyond March 31, 2009, obtaining comparable coverage from commercial underwriters could result in substantially higher premiums and more restrictive terms, if it is available at all. See Increases in insurance costs or reductions in insurance coverage may adversely impact the Companys operations and financial results in Item 1A, Risk Factors, below.
General. All carriers engaged in air transportation in the U.S. are subject to regulation by the DOT. Among its responsibilities, the DOT issues certificates of public convenience and necessity for domestic air transportation (no air carrier, unless exempted, may provide air transportation without a DOT certificate of public convenience and necessity), grants international route authorities, approves international code share agreements, regulates methods of competition and enforces certain consumer protection regulations, such as those dealing with advertising, denied boarding compensation and baggage liability.
Airlines also are regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), a division of the DOT, primarily in the areas of flight operations, maintenance and other safety and technical matters. The FAA has authority to issue air carrier operating certificates and aircraft airworthiness certificates, prescribe maintenance procedures and regulate pilot and other employee training, among other responsibilities. From time to time, the FAA issues rules that require air carriers to take certain actions, such as the inspection or modification of aircraft and other equipment, that may cause the Company to incur substantial, unplanned expenses. The airline industry is also subject to various other federal laws and regulations. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has jurisdiction over virtually all aspects of civil aviation security. See Legislation, below. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has jurisdiction over certain airline competition matters. The U.S. Postal Service has authority over certain aspects of the transportation of mail. Labor relations in the airline industry are generally governed by the Railway Labor Act (RLA). The Company is also subject to inquiries by the DOT, FAA and other U.S. and international regulatory bodies.
Airport Access. Access to landing and take-off rights, or slots, at several major U.S. airports and many foreign airports served by United are, or recently have been, subject to government regulation.
Domestic slot restrictions currently apply at Washington Reagan National Airport in Washington D.C., John F. Kennedy Airport and La Guardia Airport, both in New York, and Newark Airport in New Jersey. Slot restrictions at OHare ceased to apply as of November 2008. In 2008, the FAA issued new rules related to slots at the three New York City-area airports named above. These rules provide for
government confiscation of a portion of slots at each airport from incumbent airlines and establish a process whereby those slots will be auctioned over the course of five years. The confiscation and auction provisions are controversial and are currently the subject of litigation in federal appellate court, in which carriers serving those airports and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey claim that the FAA lacks legal authority to conduct slot auctions. On December 8, 2008, the federal appellate court in Washington D.C. stayed the auction pending a decision on the challenges to the auction process. It is difficult to predict the outcome of that litigation. If the slot auction provisions remain in effect, United will likely lose a small number of slots at each of the three New York City-area airports, however the exact number is not yet known. It is not yet clear what impact this might have on Uniteds operations at those airports.
Also in 2008, the DOT finalized amendments to its rates and charges policy that grant new authority to U.S. airports to implement forms of congestion pricing. The Air Transport Association has filed a legal challenge to the amended policy. We are currently unaware of any action by an airport to change pricing based on the new authority. It is difficult to predict whether any given airport might seek to implement this new authority and what impact on revenues or costs a change in airport charges arising from this policy might have on United.
At the end of 2008, the DOT proposed new regulations intended to enhance air passenger protection. If made final as proposed, the new regulations would create new areas of regulation and potentially permit passengers to sue air carriers should the carriers fail to meet certain service performance criteria.
Legislation. The airline industry is also subject to legislative activity that can have an impact on operations and costs. Specifically, the law that authorizes federal excise taxes and fees assessed on airline tickets expired in September 2007 was extended to February 28, 2008, and extended again until March 31, 2009. Congress is currently attempting to pass comprehensive reauthorization legislation to impose a new funding structure and make other changes to FAA operations. Past aviation reauthorization bills have affected a wide range of areas of interest to the industry, including air traffic control operations, capacity control issues, airline competition issues, aircraft and airport technology requirements, safety issues, taxes, fees and other funding sources. There also exists the possibility that Congress may pass other legislation that could increase labor and operating costs. Legislation is expected to focus on outsourced maintenance, Family and Medical Leave Act changes and other work rules. Climate change legislation, which would regulate green-house gas emissions, is also likely to be a significant area of legislative and regulatory focus and could adversely impact fuel costs. Customer service issues have remained active areas for both Congress and DOT regulators during 2008. In addition to DOT-proposed customer service regulations discussed above, legislation imposing more specific customer service requirements is likely to be approved by Congress in 2009, though what those requirements might be is unclear at this time. The DOT has also proceeded with regulatory changes in this area, including proposals regarding treatment of and payments to passengers involuntarily denied boarding, domestic baggage liability, proposals regarding flight delay reporting requirements and airline scheduling practices. Additionally, since September 11, 2001, aviation security has been and continues to be a subject of frequent legislative and regulatory action, requiring changes to the Companys security processes and frequently increasing the cost of its security procedures.
General. International air transportation is subject to extensive government regulation. In connection with Uniteds international services, the Company is regulated by both the U.S. government and the governments of the foreign countries United serves. In addition, the availability of international routes to U.S. carriers is regulated by aviation agreements between the U.S. and foreign governments, and in some cases, fares and schedules require the approval of the DOT and/or the relevant foreign governments.
Airport Access. Historically, access to foreign markets has been tightly controlled through bilateral agreements between the U.S. and each foreign country involved. These agreements regulate the markets served, the number of carriers allowed to serve each market and the frequency of carriers flights. Since the early 1990s, the U.S. has pursued a policy of open skies (meaning all carriers have access to the destination), under which the U.S. government has negotiated a number of bilateral agreements allowing unrestricted access between U.S. and foreign markets. Additionally, all of the airports that United serves in Europe and Asia maintain slot controls, and many of these are restrictive due to congestion at these airports. London Heathrow, Frankfurt and Tokyo Narita are among the most restrictive due to capacity limitations. United has significant operations at these locations.
Uniteds ability to serve some foreign markets and expand into certain others is limited by the absence altogether of aviation agreements between the U.S. government and the relevant governments. Shifts in U.S. or foreign government aviation policies can lead to the alteration or termination of air service agreements. Depending on the nature of any such change, the value of Uniteds international route authorities and slot rights may be materially enhanced or diminished.
The U.S./EU open skies agreement became effective in March 2008. This agreement replaced the bilateral arrangements between the U.S. government and the 27 EU member states. Based on the U.S. open skies model, it provides U.S. and EU carriers with expansive rights that have increased competition in transatlantic markets. For example, U.S. and EU carriers now have the right to operate between any point in the U.S. and the EU. The Agreement has no direct impact on airport slot rights nor does it provide for a reallocation of existing slots, including those at London Heathrow. London Heathrow currently remains subject to both slot and facility constraints.
The agreement provides United with additional commercial opportunities since it triggered the effectiveness of Uniteds anti-trust immunity with British carrier bmi, creating the potential for increased cooperation between the two carriers in the transatlantic market. The DOT had previously conditioned the carriers immunity upon the entry into force of an open skies agreement with the U.K. and the U.S./EU agreement satisfies this condition. Because of the diverse nature of potential impacts on Uniteds business, however, the overall future impact of the U.S./EU agreement on Uniteds business cannot be predicted with certainty.
Also in 2008, the EU adopted interpretive guidance and legislation that will impact the Company. The Commission has officially sanctioned secondary slot trading, a current practice among carriers that involves the sale, purchase or lease of slots. This action resolves disputes about the legality of slot exchanges at EU airports including Heathrow. In addition, the EU has adopted legislation to include aviation within the EUs existing greenhouse gas emissions trading scheme effective in 2012. There are significant questions that remain as to the legality of applying the scheme to non-EU airlines and the U.S. and other governments are considering filing a legal challenge to the EUs unilateral inclusion of non-EU carriers. While such a measure could significantly increase the costs of carriers operating in the EU, the precise cost to United is difficult to calculate with certainty due to a number of variables, and it is not clear whether the scheme will withstand legal challenge.
The airline industry is subject to increasingly stringent federal, state, local and foreign environmental laws and regulations concerning emissions to the air, discharges to surface and subsurface waters, safe drinking water and the management of hazardous substances, oils and waste materials. New regulations surrounding the emission of greenhouse gases (such as carbon dioxide) are being considered for promulgation both internationally and within the United States. United is carefully evaluating the potential impact of such proposed regulations. Other areas of developing regulations include the State of California rule-makings regarding air emissions from ground support equipment and a federal rule-making concerning the discharge of deicing fluid. The airline industry is also subject to other environmental laws and regulations, including those that require the Company to remediate soil or groundwater to meet certain objectives. Compliance with all environmental laws and regulations can
require significant expenditures. Under the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, commonly known as Superfund, and similar environmental cleanup laws, generators of waste materials and owners or operators of facilities, can be subject to liability for investigation and remediation costs at locations that have been identified as requiring response actions. The Company also conducts voluntary environmental assessment and remediation actions. Environmental cleanup obligations can arise from, among other circumstances, the operation of aircraft fueling facilities and primarily involve airport sites. Future costs associated with these activities are currently not expected to have a material adverse affect on the Companys business.
As of December 31, 2008, the Company and its subsidiaries had approximately 50,000 active employees, of whom approximately 83% were represented by various U.S. labor organizations. The employee groups, number of employees and labor organization for each of Uniteds collective bargaining groups were as follows:
Collective bargaining agreements are negotiated under the RLA, which governs labor relations in the air transportation industry, and such agreements typically do not contain an expiration date. Instead, they specify an amendable date, upon which the contract is considered open for amendment. Contracts remain in effect while new agreements are negotiated. During the negotiation period, both the Company and the negotiating union are required to maintain the status quo. The Company plans to begin negotiations with its labor groups in 2009.
The following risk factors should be read carefully when evaluating the Companys business and the forward-looking statements contained in this report and other statements the Company or its representatives make from time to time. Any of the following risks could materially adversely affect the Companys business, operating results, financial condition and the actual outcome of matters as to which forward-looking statements are made in this report.
The Company may be unable to continue to comply with certain covenants in its Amended Credit Facility and other agreements which, if not complied with, could accelerate repayment of the Amended Credit Facility and similarly impact the Companys obligations under certain other agreements, thereby materially and adversely affecting the Companys liquidity.
In February 2007, the Company entered into an Amended and Restated Revolving Credit, Term Loan and Guaranty Agreement dated as of February 2, 2007 with JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A, Citicorp USA, Inc., J.P. Morgan Securities Inc., Citigroup Global Markets, Inc. and Credit Suisse Securities (USA) LLC (the Amended Credit Facility) after prepaying $972 million of its then outstanding credit facility debt. The Amended Credit Facility requires compliance with certain covenants, which were further amended in May 2008. A summary of the current financial covenants includes the following:
The Company must maintain a ratio of EBITDAR to the sum of the following fixed charges for such period: (a) cash interest expense and (b) cash aircraft operating rental expense. EBITDAR represents earnings before interest expense net of interest income, income taxes, depreciation, amortization, aircraft rent and certain cash and non-cash charges as further defined by the Amended Credit Facility. The other adjustments to EBITDAR include items such as foreign currency transaction gains or losses, increases or decreases in our deferred revenue obligation, share-based compensation expense, non-recurring or unusual losses, any non-cash non-recurring charge or non-cash restructuring charge, a limited amount of cash restructuring charges, certain cash transaction costs incurred with financing activities and the cumulative effect of a change in accounting principle. The requirement to meet this ratio was suspended for the four quarters beginning with the second quarter of 2008 and ending with the first quarter of 2009, but such requirement resumes beginning in the second quarter of 2009. The required ratio for the periods ended June 30, 2009, September 30, 2009 and December 31, 2009 shall be computed based on three months ended June 30, 2009, the six months ended September 30, 2009 and the nine months ended December 31, 2009, respectively; and, the required ratio in subsequent quarters shall be computed based on the twelve months preceding each quarter-end. The Company must also maintain a minimum unrestricted cash balance of $1.0 billion at any time.
Failure to comply with any applicable covenants in effect for any reporting period could result in a default under the Amended Credit Facility. Additionally, the Amended Credit Facility contains a cross-default provision with respect to other credit arrangements that exceed $50 million. Although the Company was in compliance with all required financial covenants as of December 31, 2008, and the Company is not required to comply with a fixed charge coverage ratio until the three month period ending June 30, 2009, continued compliance depends on many factors, some of which are beyond the Companys control, including the overall industry revenue environment and the level of fuel costs. There are no assurances that the Company will continue to comply with its Amended Credit Facility covenants. Failure to comply with applicable covenants in any reporting period would result in a default under the Amended Credit Facility, which could have a material adverse impact on the Company depending on the Companys ability to obtain a waiver of, or otherwise mitigate, the impact of the default.
The Company may be unable to continue to comply with certain covenants in agreements with financial institutions that process customer credit card transactions which, if not complied with, could materially and adversely affect the Companys liquidity.
The Company has agreements with financial institutions that process customer credit card transactions for the sale of air travel and other services. Under certain of the Companys card processing agreements, the financial institutions either require, or have the right to require, that United maintain a reserve equal to a portion of advance ticket sales that have been processed by that financial institution, but for which the Company has not yet provided the air transportation (referred to as relevant advance ticket sales). As of December 31, 2008, the Company had advance ticket sales of approximately $1.5 billion of which approximately $1.3 billion relates to credit card sales.
In November 2008, United entered into an amendment for its card processing agreement with Paymentech and JPMorgan Chase Bank (the Amendment) that suspends until January 20, 2010 the requirement for United to maintain additional cash reserves with this processor of bank cards (above the current cash reserve of $25 million at December 31, 2008) if Uniteds month-end balance of unrestricted cash, cash equivalents and short-term investments falls below $2.5 billion. In exchange for this benefit, United has granted the processor a security interest in certain of Uniteds owned aircraft with a current appraised value of at least $800 million. United also has agreed that such security interest collateralizes not only Uniteds obligations under the processing agreement, but also Uniteds obligations under Uniteds Amended and Restated Co-Branded Card Marketing Services Agreement. United has an option to terminate the Amendment prior to January 20, 2010, in which event the parties prior credit card processing reserve arrangements under the processing agreement will go back into effect.
After January 20, 2010, or in the event United terminates the Amendment, and in addition to certain other risk protections provided to the processor, the amount of any such reserve will be determined based on the amount of unrestricted cash held by the Company as defined under the Amended Credit Facility. If the Companys unrestricted cash balance is more than $2.5 billion as of any calendar month-end measurement date, its required reserve will remain at $25 million. However, if the Companys unrestricted cash is less than $2.5 billion, its required reserve will increase to a percentage of relevant advance ticket sales as summarized in the following table:
If the November 2008 Amendment had not been in effect as of December 31, 2008, the Company would have been required to post an additional $132 million of reserves based on an actual unrestricted cash, cash equivalents and short-term investments balance of between $2.0 billion and $2.5 billion at December 31, 2008.
Uniteds card processing agreement with American Express expired on February 28, 2009 and was replaced by a new agreement on March 1, 2009 which has an initial five year term. As of December 31, 2008, there were no required reserves under this card agreement, and no reserves were required up through the date of expiration.
Under the new agreement, in addition to certain other risk protections provided to American Express, the Company will be required to provide reserves based primarily on its unrestricted cash
balance and net current exposure as of any calendar month-end measurement date, as summarized in the following table:
The new agreement permits the Company to provide certain replacement collateral in lieu of cash collateral, as long as the Companys unrestricted cash is above $1.35 billion. Such replacement collateral may be pledged for any amount of the required reserve up to the full amount thereof, with the stated value of such collateral determined according to the agreement. Replacement collateral may be comprised of aircraft, slots and routes, real estate or other collateral as agreed between the parties.
In the near term, the Company will not be required to post reserves under the new American Express agreement as long as unrestricted cash as measured at each month-end, and as defined in the agreement, is equal to or above $2.0 billion.
If the terms of the new agreement had been in place at December 31, 2008, and ignoring the near term protection in the preceding sentence, the Company would have been required to provide collateral of approximately $40 million.
An increase in the future reserve requirements as provided by the terms of either or both the Companys material card processing agreements could materially reduce the Companys liquidity.
While the Companys cash flows from operations and its available capital have been sufficient to meet its current operating expenses, lease obligations and debt service requirements to date, the Companys future liquidity could be negatively impacted by many factors including, but not limited to, substantial volatility in the price of fuel, declines in passenger and cargo demand associated with the weak global economy and deterioration of global financial systems. During 2008, particularly in the fourth quarter, the Company experienced weaker demand for its services due to the current economic conditions. Decreases in passenger and cargo demand resulting from a weak global economy have resulted in both lower passenger volumes and lower ticket fares, which have adversely impacted our liquidity and are expected to adversely impact our results of operations and liquidity in 2009. In addition, the Companys 2008 and planned 2009 capacity cuts may not be sufficient to address lower demand from a weak global economy. See Economic and industry conditions constantly change and continued or worsening negative economic conditions in the United States and elsewhere may have a material adverse effect on our business and results of operations, below, for further discussion of the adverse impacts of a weak economy on our operations.
In 2008, fuel price changes had a more significant impact on liquidity than changes in demand for the Companys products and services. For example, the crude oil spot price rose to a record high of approximately $145 per barrel in July 2008. The Companys consolidated fuel cost, including the impact of fuel hedges, increased by more than $3.1 billion for the full year of 2008 as compared to 2007 primarily due to increased fuel prices, resulting in a significant negative impact on liquidity. Furthermore, fuel prices continue to be extremely volatile which may negatively impact the Companys liquidity. Additionally, the Companys fuel hedges require that it post cash collateral with applicable counterparties if crude oil prices change by specified amounts. The Company provided cash collateral of
$965 million to its fuel derivative counterparties as of December 31, 2008, which decreased to $780 million as of January 19, 2009 primarily due to the settlement of December 2008 contracts. For more information on our aircraft fuel hedges, see Note 13, Fair Value Measurements and Derivative Instruments, in Combined Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements and Item 7A, Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosures about Market Risk.
The Companys current plans to address increased fuel prices and the weak global economy may not be successful in improving its results of operations and liquidity. In addition, the implementation of certain of these plans require the use of cash for such items as severance payments, lease termination fees, conversion of Ted aircraft and facility closure costs, among others. These cash requirements reduce the Companys cash available for its ongoing operations. In addition, the economic downturn may have an adverse impact on travel demand, which may result in a negative impact on revenues and liquidity.
As described above, the Company is required to comply with certain financial covenants under its Amended Credit Facility and certain of its credit card processing agreements. The factors noted above, among other things, may impair the Companys ability to comply with these covenants or could allow certain of our credit card processors to increase the required reserves on our advance ticket sales, which could have an adverse impact on the Companys financial position and liquidity, depending on its ability to obtain a waiver of, or otherwise mitigate, the impact of the default. If a default occurs under our Amended Credit Facility, the cost to cure any such default may adversely impact our financial position and liquidity.
Our level of indebtedness, our non-investment grade credit rating and the current unfavorable credit market conditions may make it difficult for us to raise capital to meet liquidity needs and may increase our cost of borrowing. A higher cost of capital could negatively impact our results of operations, financial position and liquidity.
See Item 7, Managements Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations for further information regarding the Companys liquidity.
Economic and industry conditions constantly change and continued or worsening negative economic conditions in the United States and elsewhere may have a material adverse effect on our business and results of operations.
Our business and results of operations are significantly impacted by general economic and industry conditions. Industry-wide passenger air travel varies from year to year. Robust demand for our air transportation services depends largely on favorable general economic conditions, including the strength of the global and local economies, low unemployment levels, strong consumer confidence levels and the availability of consumer and business credit. For leisure travelers, air transportation is often a discretionary purchase that those consumers can eliminate from their spending in difficult economic times. In addition, during periods of poor economic conditions, businesses usually reduce the volume of their business travel, either due to cost-savings initiatives or as a result of decreased business activity requiring travel. The overall demand for air transportation in the U.S. has been negatively impacted by adverse changes and continued deterioration in the health of the U.S. and global economies which negatively impacted our results of operations for the year ended December 31, 2008, and could continue to have a significant negative impact on our future results of operations for an extended period of time. Since the end of 2008, the outlook for key economic indicators has deteriorated and credit card activity and advance bookings have not been as strong as in the prior year. These factors are expected to negatively impact the Companys 2009 passenger and cargo revenues. In addition, decreases in cargo revenues due to lower demand have a disproportionate impact on our operating results as our cargo revenues generally have higher margins as compared to our passenger revenues. Continuation or worsening of the current global recession may lead the Company and other carriers to further reduce domestic or international capacity and may have a material adverse effect on the Companys revenues, results of operations and liquidity.
Continued periods of historically high fuel costs or significant disruptions in the supply of aircraft fuel could have a material adverse impact on the Companys operating results.
The Companys operating results have been, and continue to be, significantly impacted by changes in the supply or price of aircraft fuel, both of which are impossible to predict. The record-high fuel prices each year from 2005 through 2007 increased in 2008 to new record highs with the crude oil spot price reaching highs of approximately $145 per barrel in July of 2008. At times, United has not been able to increase its fares when fuel prices have risen due to the highly competitive nature of the airline industry, and it may not be able to do so in the future and such increases may not be sustainable in the highly competitive environment. In addition, fare increases may not totally offset the fuel price increase and may also reduce demand for air travel. From time to time, the Company enters into hedging arrangements to protect against rising fuel costs. The Companys hedging programs may use significant amounts of cash due to posting of cash collateral in some circumstances, may not be successful in controlling fuel costs and may be limited due to market conditions and other factors. See Note 13, Fair Value Measurements and Derivative Instruments, in Combined Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements for additional information on the Companys hedging programs.
Additional terrorist attacks or the fear of such attacks, even if not made directly on the airline industry, could negatively affect the Company and the airline industry.
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 involving commercial aircraft severely and adversely impacted the Companys financial condition and results of operations, as well as prospects for the airline industry generally. Among the effects experienced from the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks were substantial flight disruption costs caused by the FAA-imposed temporary grounding of the U.S. airline industrys fleet, significantly increased security costs and associated passenger inconvenience, increased insurance costs, substantially higher ticket refunds and significantly decreased traffic and revenue per revenue passenger mile (yield).
Additional terrorist attacks, even if not made directly on the airline industry, or the fear of or the precautions taken in anticipation of such attacks (including elevated national threat warnings or selective cancellation or redirection of flights) could materially and adversely affect the Company and the airline industry. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and additional international hostilities, including heightened terrorist activity, could also have a material adverse impact on the Companys financial condition, liquidity and results of operations. The Companys financial resources might not be sufficient to absorb the adverse effects of any further terrorist attacks or other international hostilities involving the United States or U.S. interests.
The airline industry is highly competitive, susceptible to price discounting and may undergo further bankruptcy restructuring or industry consolidation.
The U.S. airline industry is characterized by substantial price competition, especially in domestic markets. Some of our competitors have substantially greater financial resources or lower-cost structures than United does, or both. In recent years, the market share held by low-cost carriers has increased significantly. Large network carriers, like United, have often had a lack of pricing power within domestic markets.
During 2008, Aloha Airlines, ATA Airlines, Eos Airlines, Inc., Frontier Airlines and Skybus Airlines all filed for bankruptcy protection. Other domestic and international carriers could restructure in bankruptcy or threaten to do so to reduce their costs. Carriers operating under bankruptcy protection can operate in a manner that could be adverse to the Company and could emerge from bankruptcy as more vigorous competitors.
During 2008, the U.S. airline industry underwent consolidation with the merger of Delta Airlines, Inc. and Northwest Airlines. There is ongoing speculation that further airline industry consolidation could occur in the future. United routinely monitors changes in the competitive landscape and engages in analysis and discussions regarding its strategic position, including alliances, asset acquisitions and
divestitures and business combinations. In 2008, the Company announced its agreement to form a strategic alliance with Continental Airlines. This alliance may not realize all of the benefits of a merger. The Company may have future discussions with other airlines regarding mergers and/or other strategic alternatives. If other airlines participate in merger activity, and United does not, those airlines may significantly improve their cost structures or revenue generation capabilities, thereby potentially making them stronger competitors of United.
In addition, United and certain of its competitors announced significant capacity reductions during 2008. The Company may not achieve necessary increases in unit revenue from the announced capacity reductions and unit costs may be adversely impacted by capacity reductions. Further, certain of the Companys competitors may not reduce capacity or may increase capacity, thereby diminishing our expected benefit from capacity reductions. The poor economic environment may have an adverse impact on travel demand, which may result in a negative impact on revenues.
Additional security requirements may increase the Companys costs and decrease its revenues and traffic.
Since September 11, 2001, the DHS and the Transportation Security Administration have implemented numerous security measures that affect airline operations and costs and are likely to implement additional measures in the future. In addition, foreign governments have also instituted additional security measures at foreign airports United serves. A substantial portion of the costs of these security measures is borne by the airlines and their passengers, increasing the Companys costs and/or reducing its revenue and traffic. Additional measures taken to enhance either passenger or cargo security procedures and/or to recover associated costs in the future may result in similar adverse effects on Uniteds results of operations.
Extensive government regulation could increase the Companys operating costs and restrict its ability to conduct its business.
Airlines are subject to extensive regulatory and legal compliance requirements that result in significant costs. In addition to the enactment of the Aviation Security Act, laws, regulations, taxes and airport rates and charges have been proposed from time to time that could significantly increase the cost of airline operations or reduce airline revenue. The FAA from time to time also issues directives and other regulations relating to the maintenance and operation of aircraft that require significant expenditures by United. The Company expects to continue incurring material expenses to comply with the regulations of the FAA and other agencies.
United operates under a certificate of public convenience and necessity issued by the DOT. If the DOT altered, amended, modified, suspended or revoked our certificate, it could have a material adverse effect on the Companys business. The FAA can also limit Uniteds airport access by limiting the number of departure and arrival slots at high density traffic airports and local airport authorities may have the ability to control access to certain facilities or the cost of access to such facilities, which could have an adverse effect on the Companys business.
In addition, access to landing and take-off rights or slots at several major U.S. airports and many foreign airports served by United are, or recently have been, subject to government regulation. As passenger travel has continued to increase in recent years, many U.S. and foreign airports have become increasingly congested. Certain of Uniteds major hubs are among the more congested airports in the U.S. and have been or could be the subject of regulatory action that might limit the number of flights and/or increase costs of operations at certain times or throughout the day.
In addition, the Companys operations may be adversely impacted due to the existing outdated air traffic control (ATC) system utilized by the U.S. government. During peak travel periods in certain markets the current ATC systems inability to handle existing travel demand has led to short-term capacity constraints imposed by government agencies, as discussed above, and has also resulted in delays and disruptions of traffic using the ATC system. In addition, the current system will not be able to effectively handle projected future air traffic growth. Therefore, imposition of these ATC constraints on
a long-term basis may have a material adverse effect on our results of operations. Failure to update the ATC system in a timely manner, and the substantial funding requirements of a modernized ATC system that may be imposed on carriers like United, may have an adverse impact on the Companys financial condition or results of operations.
Many aspects of Uniteds operations are also subject to increasingly stringent federal, state and local laws protecting the environment. Future environmental regulatory developments, such as in regard to climate change, in the U.S. and abroad could adversely affect operations and increase operating costs in the airline industry. There are a few climate change laws and regulations that have gone into effect that apply to United, including environmental taxes for certain international flights, some limited greenhouse gas reporting requirements and some land-based planning laws which could apply to airports and ultimately impact airlines depending upon the circumstances. In addition, the EU has adopted legislation to include aviation within the EUs existing greenhouse gas emission trading scheme effective in 2012. There are significant questions that remain as to the legality of applying the scheme to non-EU airlines and the U.S. and other governments are considering filing a legal challenge to the EUs unilateral inclusion of non-EU carriers. While such a measure could significantly increase the costs of carriers operating in the EU, the precise cost to United is difficult to calculate with certainty due to a number of variables, and it is not clear whether the scheme will withstand legal challenge. There may be future regulatory actions taken by the U.S. government, state governments within the U.S., foreign governments, the International Civil Aviation Organization, or through a new climate change treaty to regulate the emission of greenhouse gases by the aviation industry. Such future regulatory actions are uncertain at this time (in terms of either the regulatory requirements or their applicability to United), but the impact to the Company and its industry would likely be adverse and could be significant including the potential for increased fuel costs, carbon taxes or fees or a requirement to purchase carbon credits.
The ability of U.S. carriers to operate international routes is subject to change because the applicable arrangements between the United States and foreign governments may be amended from time to time, or because appropriate slots or facilities may not be made available. United currently operates on a number of international routes under government arrangements that limit the number of carriers, capacity, or the number of carriers allowed access to particular airports. If an open skies policy were to be adopted for any of these routes, such an event could have a material adverse impact on the Companys financial position and results of operations and could result in the impairment of material amounts of related tangible and intangible assets.
Certain aspects of Uniteds proposed cooperation with Continental through broad revenue and codesharing and other commercial cooperation and Continentals entry into the Star Alliance is subject to receipt of certain regulatory and other approvals and the termination of certain contractual relationships, including Continentals existing agreements with SkyTeam members that restrict its participation in another global alliance. The parties may not be successful in obtaining regulatory approval or the timing for termination of existing contractual relationships may be delayed.
The Companys plans to enter into or expand antitrust immunized joint ventures for various international regions, involving Continental, United and other members of the Star Alliance are subject to receipt of approvals from applicable national authorities or otherwise satisfying applicable regulatory requirements, and there can be no assurances that such approvals will be granted or applicable regulatory requirements will be satisfied. Other air carriers are also seeking to initiate or expand antitrust immunity for joint ventures which, if approved, could adversely affect the Companys financial position and results of operations.
Further, the Companys operations in foreign countries are subject to a variety of laws and regulations in those countries. The Company cannot provide any assurance that current laws and regulations, or laws or regulations enacted in the future, will not adversely affect its financial condition or results of operations.
The Companys results of operations fluctuate due to seasonality and other factors associated with the airline industry.
Due to greater demand for air travel during the summer months, revenues in the airline industry in the second and third quarters of the year are generally stronger than revenues in the first and fourth quarters of the year. The Companys results of operations generally reflect this seasonality, but have also been impacted by numerous other factors that are not necessarily seasonal including, among others, the imposition of excise and similar taxes, extreme or severe weather, air traffic control congestion, changes in the competitive environment due to industry consolidation and other factors and general economic conditions. As a result, the Companys quarterly operating results are not necessarily indicative of operating results for an entire year and historical operating results in a quarterly or annual period are not necessarily indicative of future operating results.
The Company may never realize the full value of its intangible assets or our long-lived assets causing it to record impairments that may negatively affect its results of operations.
In accordance with Statement of Financial Accounting Standards No. 142, Goodwill and Other Intangible Assets (SFAS 142) and Statement of Financial Accounting Standards No. 144, Accounting for the Impairment or Disposal of Long-Lived Assets, (SFAS 144), the Company is required to test certain of its intangible assets for impairment on an annual basis on October 1 of each year, or more frequently if conditions indicate that an impairment may have occurred. In addition, the Company is required to test certain of its tangible assets for impairment if conditions indicate that an impairment may have occurred.
During the second quarter of 2008, the Company performed an interim impairment test of its goodwill, all indefinite-lived intangible assets and certain of its long-lived assets (principally aircraft and related spare engines and spare parts) due to events and changes in circumstances that indicated an impairment might have occurred. Factors deemed by management to have collectively constituted a potential impairment triggering event included record high fuel prices, significant losses in 2008, a softening U.S. economy, analyst downgrade of UAL common stock, rating agency changes in outlook for the Companys debt instruments from stable to negative, the announcement in 2008 of the planned removal from UALs fleet of 100 aircraft and a significant decrease in the fair value of the Companys outstanding equity and debt securities during 2008, including a decline in UALs market capitalization to significantly below book value.
During the fourth quarter of 2008, the Company performed its annual impairment test of intangible assets and determined that no additional impairment had occurred. In addition, due to certain conditions similar to those which triggered the second quarter 2008 impairment testing, in the fourth quarter of 2008, the Company tested its B737 and B747 aircraft for additional impairment during the fourth quarter, including evaluating the fair value of those aircraft already removed from service, which resulted in additional impairment charges being recorded in the fourth quarter.
As a result of the impairment testing performed in the second and fourth quarters of 2008, the Company recorded goodwill and tangible and intangible asset impairment charges totaling approximately $2.6 billion during 2008. The Company determined that goodwill was completely impaired. However, the Company still has book values at December 31, 2008 of approximately $10.3 billion of operating property and equipment and $2.7 billion of intangible assets that could be subject to future impairment charges. We may be required to recognize additional impairments in the future due to, among other factors, extreme fuel price volatility, tight credit markets, a decline in the fair value of certain tangible or intangible assets, unfavorable trends in historical or forecasted operating or cash flow losses and the uncertain economic environment, as well as other uncertainties. The Company can provide no assurance that a material impairment charge of tangible or intangible assets will not occur in a future period. The value of our aircraft could be impacted in future periods by changes in the market for these aircraft. Such changes could result in a greater supply and lower demand for certain aircraft types as other
carriers are also grounding aircraft. An impairment charge could have a material adverse effect on the Companys financial position and results of operations in the period of recognition.
The Companys initiatives to improve the delivery of its products and services to its customers, reduce costs, increase its revenues and increase shareholder value, including the operational plans recently initiated by the Company, may not be adequate or successful.
The Company continues to identify and implement improvement programs to enhance the delivery of its products and services to its customers, reduce its costs and increase its revenues. In response to the unprecedented increase in fuel prices during 2008 and the weakening U.S. and global economies, the Company began implementing certain operational plans. The Companys efforts are focused on cost savings in areas such as telecommunications, airport services, catering, maintenance materials, aircraft ground handling and regional affiliates expenses, among others. In addition, the Company is significantly reducing mainline domestic and consolidated capacity and is removing 100 aircraft from its mainline fleet, including its entire B737 fleet of 94 aircraft and six B747 aircraft. United is also eliminating its Ted product and reconfiguring that fleets 56 A320s to include United First class seats. See Item 7, Managements Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations for further information regarding the Companys capacity reductions. The Company will continue to review the deployment of all of our aircraft in various markets and the overall composition of our fleet to ensure that we are using our assets appropriately to provide the best available return. In connection with the capacity reductions, the Company is further streamlining its operations and corporate functions in order to match the size of its workforce to the size of its operations. The Company currently estimates a reduction of approximately 9,000 positions during 2008 and 2009, through a combination of furloughs and furlough-mitigation plans, such as early-out options. There can be no assurance that the Companys initiatives to reduce costs and increase revenues will be successful.
The Company is taking additional actions beyond the operational plans discussed above, including increased cost reductions, new revenue sources and other actions. Certain of the Companys plans to improve its performance require the use of significant cash for such items as severance payments, lease termination fees, conversion of Ted aircraft and facility closure costs, among others. The Company is also reviewing strategic alternatives to maximize the value of its assets and its businesses, which may include a possible sale of all, or part of, these assets or operations. There can be no assurance that any transactions with respect to these assets or operations will occur, nor are there any assurances with respect to the form or timing of any such transactions or their actual effect on shareholder value. A number of the Companys ongoing initiatives involve significant changes to the Companys business that it may be unable to implement successfully. In addition, revenue and other initiatives may not be successful due to the competitive landscape of the industry and the reaction of our competitors to certain of our initiatives. The adequacy and ultimate success of the Companys programs and initiatives to improve the delivery of its products and services to its customers, reduce its costs and increase both its revenues and shareholder value cannot be assured.
Union disputes, employee strikes and other labor-related disruptions may adversely affect the Companys operations and impair its financial performance.
Approximately 83% of the employees of UAL are represented for collective bargaining purposes by U.S. labor unions. These employees are organized into six labor groups represented by six different unions.
Relations between air carriers and labor unions in the United States are governed by the RLA. Under the RLA, a carrier must maintain the existing terms and conditions of employment following the amendable date through a multi-stage and usually lengthy series of bargaining processes overseen by the National Mediation Board (NMB). This process continues until either the parties have reached agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement or the parties are released to self-help by the NMB. Although in most circumstances the RLA prohibits strikes, shortly after release by the NMB, carriers and unions are free to engage in self-help measures such as strikes and lock-outs. All six of the
Companys U.S. labor agreements become amendable in January 2010, with negotiations between the Company and the labor unions scheduled to commence during 2009. The Company can provide no assurance that a successful or timely resolution of labor negotiations for all amendable agreements will be achieved. There is also a risk that dissatisfied employees, either with or without union involvement, could engage in illegal slow-downs, work stoppages, partial work stoppages, sick-outs or other actions short of a full strike that could individually or collectively harm the operation of the airline and materially impair its financial performance.
Increases in insurance costs or reductions in insurance coverage may adversely impact the Companys operations and financial results.
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 led to a significant increase in insurance premiums and a decrease in the insurance coverage available to commercial airlines. Accordingly, the Companys insurance costs increased significantly and its ability to continue to obtain certain types of insurance remains uncertain. The Company has obtained third-party war risk (terrorism) insurance through a special program administered by the FAA, resulting in lower premiums than if it had obtained this insurance in the commercial insurance market. Should the government discontinue this coverage, obtaining comparable coverage from commercial underwriters could result in substantially higher premiums and more restrictive terms, if it is available at all. If the Company is unable to obtain adequate war risk insurance, its business could be materially and adversely affected.
If any of Uniteds aircraft were to be involved in an accident, the Company could be exposed to significant liability. The insurance it carries to cover damages arising from any future accidents may be inadequate. If the Companys insurance is not adequate, it may be forced to bear substantial losses from an accident.
The Company relies heavily on automated systems to operate its business and any significant failure of these systems could harm its business.
The Company depends on automated systems to operate its business, including its computerized airline reservation systems, flight operations systems, telecommunication systems and commercial websites, including united.com. Uniteds website and reservation systems must be able to accommodate a high volume of traffic and deliver important flight and schedule information, as well as process critical financial transactions. Substantial or repeated website, reservations systems or telecommunication systems failures could reduce the attractiveness of Uniteds services versus its competitors and materially impair its ability to market its services and operate its flights.
The Companys business relies extensively on third-party providers. Failure of these parties to perform as expected, or unexpected interruptions in the Companys relationships with these providers or their provision of services to the Company, could have an adverse effect on its financial condition and results of operations.
The Company has engaged a growing number of third-party service providers to perform a large number of functions that are integral to its business, such as operation of United Express flights, operation of customer service call centers, provision of information technology infrastructure and services, provision of aircraft maintenance and repairs, provision of various utilities and performance of aircraft fueling operations, among other vital functions and services. The Company does not directly control these third-party providers, although it does enter into agreements with many of them that define expected service performance. Any of these third-party providers, however, may materially fail to meet their service performance commitments to the Company. The failure of these providers to adequately perform their service obligations, or other unexpected interruptions of services, may reduce the Companys revenues and increase its expenses or prevent United from operating its flights and providing other services to its customers. In addition, the Companys business and financial performance could be materially harmed if its customers believe that its services are unreliable or unsatisfactory.
The Companys high level of fixed obligations could limit its ability to fund general corporate requirements and obtain additional financing, could limit its flexibility in responding to competitive developments and could increase its vulnerability to adverse economic and industry conditions.
The Company has a significant amount of financial leverage from fixed obligations, including its amended credit facility, aircraft lease and debt financings, leases of airport property and other facilities, and other material cash obligations. In addition, as of December 31, 2008, the Company had pledged a substantial amount of its assets as collateral to secure its various fixed obligations. The Companys high level of fixed obligations, a downgrade in the Companys credit ratings or poor credit market conditions could impair its ability to obtain additional financing, if needed, and reduce its flexibility to conduct its business. Certain of the Companys existing indebtedness also requires it to meet covenants and financial tests to maintain ongoing access to those borrowings. See Note 12, Debt Obligations and Card Processing Agreements, in Combined Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements for further details related to the Companys credit agreements and assets pledged as collateral. A failure to timely pay its debts or other material uncured breach of its contractual obligations could result in a variety of adverse consequences, including the acceleration of the Companys indebtedness, the withholding of credit card sale proceeds by its credit card service providers and the exercise of other remedies by its creditors and equipment lessors that could result in material adverse effects on the Companys operations and financial condition. In such a situation, it is unlikely that the Company would be able to fulfill its obligations to repay the accelerated indebtedness, make required lease payments, or otherwise cover its fixed costs.
As of December 31, 2008, the Company had a net operating loss (NOL) carry forward tax benefit of approximately $2.6 billion for federal and state income tax purposes that primarily originated before UALs emergence from bankruptcy and will expire over a five to twenty year period. This tax benefit is mostly attributable to federal pre-tax NOL carry forwards of $7.0 billion. If the Company were to have a change of ownership within the meaning of Section 382 of the Internal Revenue Code, under certain conditions, its annual federal NOL utilization could be limited to an amount equal to its market capitalization at the time of the ownership change multiplied by the federal long-term tax exempt rate. A change of ownership under Section 382 of the Internal Revenue Code is defined as a cumulative change of 50 percentage points or more in the ownership positions of certain stockholders owning 5% or more of the Companys common stock over a three year rolling period.
To reduce the risk of a potential adverse effect on the Companys ability to utilize its NOL carry forward for federal income tax purposes, UALs restated certificate of incorporation contains a 5% Ownership Limitation, applicable to all stockholders except the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC). The 5% Ownership Limitation remains effective until February 1, 2011. The 5% Ownership Limitation prohibits (i) the acquisition by a single stockholder of shares representing 5% or more of the common stock of UAL Corporation and (ii) any acquisition or disposition of common stock by a stockholder that already owns 5% or more of UAL Corporations common stock, unless prior written approval is granted by the UAL Board of Directors. The percentage ownership of a single stockholder can be computed by dividing the number of shares of common stock held by the stockholder by the sum of the shares of common stock issued and outstanding plus the number of shares of common stock still held in reserve for payment to unsecured creditors under the Plan of Reorganization. For additional information regarding the 5% Ownership Limitation, please refer to UALs restated certificate available on its website.
While the purpose of these transfer restrictions is to prevent a change of ownership from occurring within the meaning of Section 382 of the Internal Revenue Code (which ownership change might materially and adversely affect the Companys ability to utilize its NOL carry forward or other tax attributes), no assurance can be given that such an ownership change will not occur, in which case the availability of the Companys substantial NOL carry forward and other federal income tax attributes might be significantly limited or possibly eliminated. Any transfers of common stock that are made in violation of the restrictions set forth above will be void and, pursuant to UALs restated certificate of
incorporation, will be treated as if such transfer never occurred. This provision may prevent a sale of common stock by a stockholder or adversely affect the price at which a stockholder can sell common stock and consequently make it more difficult for a stockholder to sell shares of common stock. In addition, this limitation may have the effect of delaying or preventing a change in control of UAL, creating a perception that a change in control cannot occur or otherwise discouraging takeover attempts that some stockholders may consider beneficial, which could also adversely affect the prevailing market price of the common stock. UAL cannot predict the effect that this provision in the UAL restated certificate of incorporation may have on the market price of the common stock.
The Company is subject to economic and political instability and other risks of doing business globally.
The Company is a global business with operations outside of the United States from which it derives approximately one-third of its operating revenues, as measured and reported to the DOT. The Companys operations in Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Europe are a vital part of its worldwide airline network. Volatile economic, political and market conditions in these international regions may have a negative impact on the Companys operating results and its ability to achieve its business objectives. In addition, significant or volatile changes in exchange rates between the U.S. dollar and other currencies, and the imposition of exchange controls or other currency restrictions, may have a material adverse impact upon the Companys liquidity, revenues, costs and operating results.
An outbreak of a disease that affects travel demand or travel behavior, such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) or avian flu, or other illness, could have a material adverse impact on the Companys business, financial condition and results of operations.
Certain provisions of UALs Governance Documents could discourage or delay changes of control or changes to the Board of Directors of UAL.
Certain provisions of the amended and restated certificate of incorporation and amended and restated bylaws of UAL (the Governance Documents) may make it difficult for stockholders to change the composition of UALs Board of Directors and may discourage takeover attempts that some of its stockholders may consider beneficial.
Certain provisions of the Governance Documents may have the effect of delaying or preventing changes in control if UALs Board of Directors determines that such changes in control are not in the best interests of UAL and its stockholders.
These provisions of the Governance Documents are not intended to prevent a takeover, but are intended to protect and maximize the value of UALs stockholders interests. While these provisions have the effect of encouraging persons seeking to acquire control of UAL to negotiate with the UAL Board of Directors, they could enable the Board of Directors to prevent a transaction that some, or a majority, of its stockholders might believe to be in their best interests and, in that case, may prevent or discourage attempts to remove and replace incumbent directors.
The issuance of UALs contingent senior unsecured notes could adversely impact results of operations, liquidity and financial position and could cause dilution to the interests of its existing stockholders.
In connection with the Companys emergence from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, UAL is obligated under an indenture to issue to the PBGC 8% senior unsecured notes with an aggregate principal amount of up to $500 million in up to eight equal tranches of $62.5 million (with no more than one tranche issued as a result of each issuance trigger event) upon the occurrence of certain financial triggering events. An issuance trigger event occurs when the Companys EBITDAR (as defined in the indenture) exceeds $3.5 billion over the prior twelve months ending June 30 or December 31 of any applicable fiscal year, beginning with the fiscal year ending December 31, 2009 and ending with the fiscal year ending December 31, 2017. However, if the issuance of a tranche would cause a default under any
other securities then existing, UAL may satisfy its obligations with respect to such tranche by issuing UAL common stock having a market value equal to $62.5 million. The issuance of these notes could adversely impact the Companys results of operations because of increased interest expense related to the notes and adversely impact its financial position or liquidity due to increased cash required to meet interest and principal payments. If common stock is issued in lieu of debt, this could cause additional dilution to existing UAL stockholders. See Risks Related to UALs Common Stock, below, for additional information regarding other risks related to our common stock.
Risks Related to UALs Common Stock
The issuance of additional shares of UALs common stock, including upon conversion of its convertible notes, could cause dilution to the interests of its existing stockholders.
In connection with the Companys emergence from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, UAL issued approximately $150 million in convertible 5% notes and subsequently issued approximately $726 million in convertible 4.5% notes on July 25, 2006. Holders of these securities may convert them into shares of UALs common stock according to their terms. See Note 12, Debt Obligations and Card Processing Agreements, in Combined Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements for further information regarding these instruments.
UALs certificate of incorporation authorizes up to one billion shares of common stock. In certain circumstances, UAL can issue shares of common stock without stockholder approval. In the fourth quarter of 2008, the UAL Board of Directors approved the issuance of $200 million of common stock as part of an ongoing equity offering by the Company. UAL issued 11.2 million shares of common stock during 2008 and 4.0 million shares during 2009, resulting in gross proceeds of $172 million, and may issue additional shares during 2009 until it reaches $200 million in proceeds. In addition, the UAL Board of Directors is authorized to issue up to 250 million shares of preferred stock without any action on the part of UALs stockholders. The UAL Board of Directors also has the power, without stockholder approval, to set the terms of any series of shares of preferred stock that may be issued, including voting rights, conversion rights, dividend rights, preferences over UALs common stock with respect to dividends or if UAL liquidates, dissolves or winds up its business and other terms. If UAL issues preferred stock in the future that has a preference over its common stock with respect to the payment of dividends or upon its liquidation, dissolution or winding up, or if UAL issues preferred stock with voting rights that dilute the voting power of its common stock, the rights of holders of its common stock or the market price of its common stock could be adversely affected. UAL is also authorized to issue, without stockholder approval, other securities convertible into either preferred stock or, in certain circumstances, common stock. In the future UAL may decide to raise additional capital through offerings of its common stock, securities convertible into its common stock, or rights to acquire these securities or its common stock. The issuance of additional shares of common stock or securities convertible into common stock could result in dilution of existing stockholders equity interests in UAL. Issuances of substantial amounts of its common stock, or the perception that such issuances could occur, may adversely affect prevailing market prices for UALs common stock and UAL cannot predict the effect this dilution may have on the price of its common stock.
UALs restated certificate of incorporation limits the total number of shares of equity securities held by persons who are not citizens of the United States, as defined in Section 40102(a)(15) of Title 49 United States Code, to no more than 24.9% of the aggregate votes of all equity securities outstanding. This restriction is applied pro rata among all holders of equity securities who fail to qualify as citizens of the United States, based on the number of votes the underlying securities are entitled to.
During 2008, the Company began implementing operational plans to significantly reduce its operating fleet and capacity. These operational plans include the retirement of the Companys entire fleet of 94 B737 aircraft and six B747 aircraft by the end of 2009, of which 51 aircraft were removed from serviced during 2008 as discussed in Note 2, Company Operational Plans, in Combined Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements.
Details of UAL and Uniteds mainline operating fleet as of December 31, 2008 are provided in the following table:
Details of United Express operating fleet that are operated under capacity purchase lease agreements as of December 31, 2008, are provided in the following table:
All of the Bombardier CRJ700 and Embraer EMB170 aircraft are equipped with explus seating. For additional information on aircraft leases, see Note 15, Lease Obligations, in Combined Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements.
United is a party to various leases relating to its use of airport landing areas, gates, hangar sites, terminal buildings and other airport facilities in most of the municipalities it serves. Major terminal facility leases expire at SFO in 2011 and 2013, Washington Dulles in 2014, OHare in 2018, LAX in 2021
and Denver in 2025. The Company also leases approximately 250,000 square feet of office space through 2022 for its corporate headquarters in downtown Chicago.
In January 2009, the Company entered into an amendment to its OHare cargo building site lease with the City of Chicago. The Company agreed to vacate its current cargo facility at OHare to allow the land to be used for the development of a future runway. In January 2009, the Company received approximately $160 million from OHare in accordance with the terms of the lease amendment. In addition, the lease amendment requires that the City of Chicago provide the Company with another site at OHare upon which a replacement cargo facility could be constructed.
The Company owns a 66.5-acre complex in suburban Chicago consisting of more than 1 million square feet of office space for its Operations Center, a computer operations facility and a training center. United also owns a flight training center, located in Denver, which accommodates 36 flight simulators and more than 90 computer-based training stations. The Company owns a limited number of other properties, including a crew hotel in Honolulu which is mortgaged.
During 2008, the Company completed its process of relocating employees from several of its other suburban Chicago facilities into either the new headquarters or the Operations Center consistent with the Companys goals of achieving additional cost savings and operational efficiencies.
The Companys Maintenance Operation Center at SFO occupies 130 acres of land, 2.9 million square feet of floor space and nine aircraft hangar bays under a lease expiring in 2013. The Company has options to renew the lease through 2023.
Uniteds off-airport leased properties historically included a number of ticketing, sales and general office facilities in the downtown and suburban areas of most of the larger cities within the United system. As part of the Companys restructuring and cost containment efforts, United closed, terminated or rejected in bankruptcy all of its former domestic city ticket office leases. United continues to lease and operate a number of administrative, reservations, sales and other support facilities worldwide. United continuously evaluates opportunities to reduce or modify facilities occupied at its airports and off-airport locations.
As discussed above, on the Petition Date the Debtors filed voluntary petitions to reorganize their businesses under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code. On October 20, 2005, the Debtors filed the Debtors First Amended Joint Plan of Reorganization Pursuant to Chapter 11 of the United States Bankruptcy Code and the Disclosure Statement. Commencing on October 27, 2005, all eligible classes of creditors had the opportunity to vote to accept or reject the Debtors proposed Plan of Reorganization. After a hearing on confirmation, on January 20, 2006, the Bankruptcy Court confirmed the Plan of Reorganization. The Plan of Reorganization became effective and the Debtors emerged from bankruptcy protection on the Effective Date.
Numerous pre-petition claims still await resolution in the Bankruptcy Court due to the Companys objections to either the existence of liability or the amount of the claim. The process of determining whether liability exists and liquidating such claims will continue in 2009. Additionally, certain significant matters remain to be resolved in the Bankruptcy Court. For details see Note 4, Voluntary Reorganization Under Chapter 11, in Combined Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements.
In February 2006, the European Commission (the Commission) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) commenced an international investigation into what government officials described as a possible price fixing conspiracy relating to certain surcharges included in tariffs for carrying air cargo. DOJ issued a grand jury subpoena to United and the Commission conducted an inspection at the Companys offices in Frankfurt. In June 2006, United received a second subpoena from the DOJ requesting information related to certain passenger pricing practices and surcharges applicable to international passenger routes. We are cooperating fully. United is considered a source of information for the DOJ investigation, not a target.
Separately, United has received information requests regarding cargo pricing matters from the competition authorities in Australia, Brazil, Japan, Korea and Switzerland. On December 18, 2007, the Commission issued a Statement of Objections to 26 companies, including United. The Statement of Objections presented evidence related to the utilization of fuel and security surcharges and the exchange of pricing information that the Commission views as supporting the conclusion that an illegal price-fixing cartel had been in operation in the air cargo transportation industry. United has provided written and oral responses vigorously disputing the Commissions allegations against the Company. On July 31, 2008, state prosecutors in Sao Paulo, Brazil, commenced criminal proceedings against eight individuals, including Uniteds cargo manager, for allegedly participating in cartel activity. The Company is actively participating in the defense of those allegations. On December 15, 2008, the New Zealand Commerce Commission issued Notices of Proceeding and Statements of Claim to 13 airlines, including United. The Company is currently preparing its response to these proceedings.
In addition to the government investigations, United and other air cargo carriers were named as defendants in over ninety class action lawsuits alleging civil damages as a result of the purported air cargo pricing conspiracy. Those lawsuits were consolidated for pretrial activities in the United States Federal Court for the Eastern District of New York on June 20, 2006. United entered into an agreement with the majority of the private plaintiffs to dismiss United from the class action lawsuits in return for an agreement to cooperate with the plaintiffs factual investigation and United is no longer named as a defendant in the consolidated civil lawsuit. The Company is reviewing whether its receipt of a Statement of Objections from the Commission will impact the civil litigation.
Multiple putative class actions were also filed alleging violations of the antitrust laws with respect to the passenger pricing practices which were the subject of the DOJ subpoena. Those lawsuits were consolidated for pretrial activities in the United States Federal Court for the Northern District of California (Federal Court). United was dismissed from the case on October 3, 2008.
The Company is currently cooperating with all ongoing investigations and analyzing whether any potential liability may result from any of the investigating bodies. Based on its evaluation of all information currently available, the Company has determined that no reserve for potential liability is required and will continue to defend itself against all allegations that it was aware of or participated in cartel activities. However, penalties for violation of competition laws can be substantial and an ultimate finding that the Company engaged in improper activity could have a material adverse impact on our consolidated financial position and results of operations.
United Injunction Against ALPA and Four Individual Defendants for Unlawful Slowdown Activity under the Railway Labor Act
On July 30, 2008, United filed a lawsuit in federal court for the Northern District of Illinois (the Court) seeking a preliminary injunction against ALPA and four individual pilot employees also named as defendants for unlawful concerted activity which was disrupting the Companys operations. The suit focused on ALPAs nearly two-year campaign to exert unlawful pressure on the Company through work to rule initiatives, junior/senior manning refusals, sick leave usage, pilot driven flight delays, fuel adds and similar measures. The Company alleged all of this activity was a violation of the Railway Labor Act and should immediately be enjoined by the Court. The Court granted a preliminary injunction to United in November 2008. However, the Company intends to seek a permanent injunction to conclude the process. In addition, ALPA appealed the Courts decision and arguments concerning the appeal were heard on February 24, 2009.
Families of 94 victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks filed lawsuits asserting a variety of claims against the airline industry. United and American Airlines (the aviation defendants), as the two carriers whose flights were hijacked, are the central focus of the litigation, but a variety of additional parties have been sued on a number of legal theories ranging from collective responsibility for airport screening and security systems that allegedly failed to prevent the attacks to faulty design and construction of the World Trade Center towers. In excess of 97% of the families of the deceased victims received awards from the September 11th Victims Compensation Fund of 2001, which was established by the federal government, and consequently are now barred from making further claims against the aviation defendants. World Trade Center Properties, Inc., as lessee, has filed claims against the aviation defendants and The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the owner of the World Trade Center. The Port Authority has also filed cross-claims against the aviation defendants in both the wrongful death litigation and for property damage sustained in the attacks. The insurers of various tenants at the World Trade Center have filed subrogation claims for damages as well. In the aggregate, September 11th claims are estimated to be well in excess of $10 billion. By statute, these matters were consolidated in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and the aviation defendants exposure was capped at the limit of the liability coverage maintained by each carrier at the time of the attacks. In the personal injury and wrongful death matters, settlement discussions continue and the parties have reached settlement agreements for the majority of the remaining claims. The Company anticipates that any liability it may face arising from the events of September 11, 2001 could be significant, but by statute will be limited to the amount of its insurance coverage.
UAL and United are involved in various other claims and legal actions involving passengers, customers, suppliers, employees and government agencies arising in the ordinary course of business. Additionally, from time to time, the Company becomes aware of potential non-compliance with
applicable environmental regulations, which have either been identified by the Company (through internal compliance programs such as its environmental compliance audits) or through notice from a governmental entity. In some instances, these matters could potentially become the subject of an administrative or judicial proceeding and could potentially involve monetary sanctions. After considering a number of factors, including (but not limited to) the views of legal counsel, the nature of contingencies to which the Company is subject and prior experience, management believes that the ultimate disposition of these contingencies will not materially affect its consolidated financial position or results of operations.
EXECUTIVE OFFICERS OF UAL
The executive officers of UAL are listed below, along with their ages, tenure as officer and business background for at least the last five years.
Paul R. Lovejoy. Age 54. Mr. Lovejoy has been Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary of UAL and United since June 2003.
Peter D. McDonald. Age 57. Mr. McDonald has been Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer of UAL and United since May 2008. From May 2004 to May 2008, Mr. McDonald served as Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of UAL and United. From September 2002 to May 2004, Mr. McDonald served as Executive Vice PresidentOperations of UAL and United.
Kathryn A. Mikells. Age 43. Ms. Mikells has been Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of UAL and United since November 2008. From August 2007 to October 2008, Ms. Mikells served as Vice President of Investor Relations of United. From August 2006 to July 2007 she served as Vice President of Financial Planning and Analysis of United and from January 2005 to August 2006, Ms. Mikells served as Vice President and Treasurer of United. Prior to that, Ms. Mikells served as Vice President Corporate Real Estate of United from November 2003 to January 2005.
John P. Tague. Age 46. Mr. Tague has been Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of UAL and United since May 2008. From April 2006 to May 2008, Mr. Tague served as Executive Vice President and Chief Revenue Officer of UAL and United. From May 2004 to April 2006, he served as Executive Vice PresidentMarketing, Sales and Revenue of UAL and United. From May 2003 to May 2004, Mr. Tague was Executive Vice PresidentCustomer of UAL and United.
Glenn F. Tilton. Age 60. Mr. Tilton has been Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of UAL and United since September 2002.
There are no family relationships among the executive officers or the directors of UAL. The executive officers are elected by the Board of Directors each year and hold office until the organization meeting of the respective Board of Directors in the next subsequent year and until his or her successor is chosen or until his or her earlier death, resignation or removal.
The following table sets forth the ranges of high and low sales prices per share of the UAL common stock, which trades on a NASDAQ market under the symbol UAUA, during the last two completed fiscal years.
There is no trading market for the common stock of United. UAL and United did not pay any dividends in either 2008 or 2007. In December 2007, UALs Board of Directors approved a special distribution of $2.15 per common share, or approximately $257 million, which was paid on January 23, 2008 to holders of record of UAL common stock as of January 9, 2008 and is characterized as a return of capital for tax purposes. Under the provisions of the Amended Credit Facility the Companys ability to pay distributions on or repurchase UAL common stock is restricted. However, the Company may undertake an additional $243 million in shareholder initiatives without any additional prepayment of the Amended Credit Facility, provided that all covenants within the Amended Credit Facility are met. In addition, the agreement provides that the Company can carry out further shareholder initiatives in an amount equal to future term loan prepayments, provided the facility covenants are met. See Note 12, Debt Obligations and Card Processing Agreements, in Combined Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements for more information related to dividend restrictions under the Amended Credit Facility. Any future determination regarding dividend or distribution payments will be at the discretion of the Board of Directors, subject to applicable limitations under Delaware law.
Based on reports by the Companys transfer agent for the UAL common stock, there were approximately 1,774 record holders of its UAL common stock as of February 20, 2009.
The following graph shows the cumulative total shareholder return for the UAL common stock during the period from February 2, 2006 to December 31, 2008. Five year historical data is not presented as a result of the significant period UAL was in bankruptcy and since the financial results of the Successor UAL are not comparable with the results of the Predecessor UAL, as discussed in Item 6, Selected Financial Data. The graph also shows the cumulative returns of the S&P 500 Index and the AMEX Airline Index (AAI) of 13 investor-owned airlines. The comparison assumes $100 was invested on February 2, 2006 (the date UAUA began trading on NASDAQ) in UAL Common Stock and in each of the indices shown and assumes that all dividends paid, including UALs January 2008 $2.15 per share distribution, were reinvested.
Note: The stock price performance shown in the graph above should not be considered indicative of potential future stock price performance.
The following table presents repurchases of UAL common stock made in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2008:
In connection with its emergence from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, UAL adopted fresh-start reporting in accordance with SOP 90-7 and in conformity with accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America (GAAP). As a result of the adoption of fresh-start reporting, the financial statements prior to February 1, 2006 are not comparable with the financial statements after February 1, 2006. References to Successor Company refer to UAL on or after February 1, 2006, after giving effect to the adoption of fresh-start reporting. References to Predecessor Company refer to UAL prior to February 1, 2006.
As discussed above under Item 1, Business, the Company derives virtually all of its revenues from airline related activities. The most significant source of airline revenues is passenger revenues; however, Mileage Plus, United Cargo and United Services are also major sources of operating revenues. The airline industry is highly competitive and is characterized by intense price competition. Fare discounting by Uniteds competitors has historically had a negative effect on the Companys financial results because United has generally been required to match competitors fares to maintain passenger traffic. Future competitive fare adjustments may negatively impact the Companys future financial results. The Companys most significant operating expense is jet fuel. Jet fuel prices are extremely volatile and are largely uncontrollable by the Company. The Companys historical and future earnings have been and will continue to be significantly impacted by jet fuel prices.
This Annual Report on Form 10-K is a combined report of UAL and United. As UAL consolidates United for financial statement purposes, disclosures that relate to activities of United also apply to UAL, unless otherwise noted. Uniteds operating revenues and operating expenses comprise nearly 100% of UALs revenues and operating expenses. In addition, United comprises approximately the entire balance of UALs assets, liabilities and operating cash flows. Therefore, the following qualitative discussion is applicable to both UAL and United, unless otherwise noted. Any significant differences between UAL and United results are separately disclosed and explained. United meets the conditions set forth in General Instruction I(1)(a) and (b) of Form 10-K and is therefore filing this Form 10-K with the reduced disclosure format allowed under that general instruction.
Bankruptcy Matters. On December 9, 2002, UAL, United and 26 direct and indirect wholly-owned subsidiaries filed voluntary petitions to reorganize its business under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code. The Company emerged from bankruptcy on February 1, 2006, under a Plan of Reorganization that was approved by the Bankruptcy Court. In connection with its emergence from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, the Company adopted fresh-start reporting, which resulted in significant changes in post-emergence financial statements, as compared to the Companys historical financial statements. See the Financial Results section below for further discussion. See Note 4, Voluntary Reorganization Under Chapter 11, in Combined Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements for further information regarding bankruptcy matters.
Recent Developments. The unprecedented increase in fuel prices and a worsening global recession have created an extremely challenging environment for the airline industry. While the Company significantly improved its financial performance in 2006 and 2007, the Company was not able to financially compensate for the substantial increase in fuel prices during 2008. The Companys average consolidated fuel price per gallon, including net hedge losses that are classified in fuel expense, increased 59% from 2007 to 2008. The increased cost of fuel purchases and hedging losses drove the $3.1 billion increase in the Companys consolidated fuel costs. The Companys fuel hedge losses that are classified in nonoperating expense also had a significant negative impact on its 2008 liquidity and results of operations.
Although the Company was adversely impacted by fuel costs and special items in this recessionary environment, the Companys commitment to cost reduction was a contributory factor to the year-over-year reduction in other areas of operating expenses as presented in the table below. The
following table presents the unit cost of various components of total operating expenses and year-over-year changes.
In 2008, the Company focused on mitigating a portion of the negative impact of higher fuel costs and the weakening economy through cost reductions, fleet optimization, generation of higher revenues, executing on initiatives to enhance liquidity and other strategies as discussed below. Overall, the Company has characterized its business approach as Focus on Five, which refers to a comprehensive set of priorities that focus on the fundamentals of running a good airline: one that runs on time, with clean planes and courteous employees, that delivers industry-leading revenues and competitive costs, and does so safely. Building on this foundation, United aims to regain its industry-leading position in key metrics reported by the DOT as well as industry-leading revenue driven by products, services, schedules and routes that are valued by the Companys customers. The goal of this approach is intended to enable United to achieve best-in-class safety performance, exceptional customer satisfaction and experience and industry-leading margin and cash flow. Although results of operations in 2008 were disappointing and economic conditions continue to present a challenge for the Company, we believe we are taking the necessary steps to position the Company for improved financial and operational performance in 2009.
Some of these actions include the following:
The Company also took certain actions to maintain adequate liquidity and minimize its financing costs during this challenging economic environment. During 2008, the Company generated unrestricted cash of approximately $1.9 billion through new financing agreements, amendments to our Mileage Plus co-branded credit card agreement and our largest credit card processing agreement and other means. Some of these agreements are summarized below. See Liquidity and Capital ResourcesFinancing Activities, below, for additional information related to these agreements.
The Company also made the following significant changes to its international route network:
Financial Results. UAL and United adopted fresh-start reporting in accordance with SOP 90-7 upon emerging from bankruptcy. Thus, the consolidated financial statements before February 1, 2006 reflect results based upon the historical cost basis of the Company while the post-emergence consolidated financial statements reflect the new basis of accounting, which incorporates fair value and other adjustments recorded from the application of SOP 90-7. Therefore, financial statements for the post-emergence periods are not comparable to the pre-emergence period financial statements. References to Successor Company refer to UAL and/or United on or after February 1, 2006, after giving effect to the adoption of fresh-start reporting. References to Predecessor Company refer to UAL and/or United before their exit from bankruptcy on February 1, 2006.
For purposes of the discussion of financial results, management utilizes the combined results of the Successor Company and Predecessor Company for the twelve months ended December 31, 2006. The combined results for the twelve months ended December 31, 2006 are non-GAAP measures; however, management believes that the combined results provide a more meaningful comparison to the years ended December 31, 2008 and 2007.
The air travel business is subject to seasonal fluctuations and historically, the Companys results of operations are better in the second and third quarters as compared to the first and fourth quarters of each year, since our first and fourth quarter results normally reflect weaker travel demand. The Companys results of operations can be impacted by adverse weather, air traffic control delays, fuel price volatility and other factors in any period.
The table below presents certain financial statement items to provide an overview of the Companys financial performance for the three years ended December 31, 2008, 2007 and 2006. The most significant contributors to the Companys net loss in 2008 were increased fuel prices and asset impairments. The table below also highlights that the Company, through its past and on-going cost reduction initiatives, was able to effectively manage costs in non-fuel and other areas, although the benefits of these cost savings initiatives and higher revenues were not sufficient to offset the dramatic increase in fuel cost.
SUMMARY RESULTS OF OPERATIONS
Additional details of significant variances in 2008 as compared to 2007 results, as presented in the table above, include the following:
Liquidity. The following table provides a summary of the Companys cash, restricted cash and short-term investments at December 31, 2008 and 2007.
The decrease in the Companys cash, restricted cash and short-term investments balances was primarily due to a $3.4 billion unfavorable reduction in cash flows from operations in 2008 as compared to 2007. The operating cash decrease was primarily due to increased cash expenses, mainly fuel and fuel hedge cash settlements, as discussed below under Results of Operations. Fuel hedge collateral requirements also used operating cash of approximately $965 million in the year ended December 31, 2008. This unfavorable variance was partly offset by approximately $600 million of proceeds received from the amendment of the co-brand credit card agreement, as discussed above. Restricted cash
decreased in 2008 primarily due to an amendment to our largest credit card processing agreement and posting of letters of credit, as further discussed below.
The increase in net cash used by investing activities was primarily due to a reallocation of excess cash from short-term investments to cash and cash equivalents. Investing cash flows benefited from a reduction in restricted cash of $484 million. This benefit was primarily due to the amendment of the credit card processing agreement in association with the co-branded amendment described above, which decreased restricted cash by $357 million, and the substitution of letters of credit for cash deposits related to workers compensation obligations. In addition, UAL financing outflows included approximately $253 million to pay a $2.15 per common share special distribution in January 2008.
The Company expects its cash flows from operations and its available capital to be sufficient to meet its future operating expenses, lease obligations and debt service requirements in the next twelve months; however, the Companys future liquidity could be impacted by increases or decreases in fuel prices, fuel hedge collateral requirements, inability to adequately increase revenues to offset high fuel prices, softening revenues resulting from reduced demand, failure to meet future debt covenants and other factors. See the Liquidity and Capital Resources and Item 7A, Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosures about Market Risk, below, for a discussion of these factors and the Companys significant operating, investing and financing cash flows.
Capital Commitments. At December 31, 2008, the Companys future commitments for the purchase of property and equipment include approximately $2.4 billion of nonbinding aircraft commitments and $0.6 billion of binding commitments. The nonbinding commitments of $2.4 billion are related to 42 A319 and A320 aircraft. These orders may be cancelled which would result in the forfeiture of $91 million of advance payments provided to the manufacturer. United believes it is highly unlikely that it will take delivery of the remaining aircraft in the future and therefore believes it will be required to forfeit its $91 million of advance delivery deposits. Based on this determination, the Company recorded an impairment charge in 2008 to decrease the value of the deposits and related capitalized interest of $14 million to zero in the Companys Statements of Consolidated Financial Position. In addition, the Companys capital commitments include commitments related to its international premium cabin enhancement program. During 2008, the Company reduced the scope of this project by six aircraft, from the originally disclosed number of 97 aircraft. As of December 31, 2008, the Company had completed upgrades on 25 aircraft and had remaining capital commitments to complete enhancements on an additional 66 aircraft. For further details, see Note 14, Commitments, Contingent Liabilities and Uncertainties, in Combined Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements.
Contingencies. During the course of its Chapter 11 proceedings, the Company successfully reached settlements with most of its creditors and resolved most pending claims against the Debtors. We are a party to numerous long-term agreements to lease certain airport and maintenance facilities that are financed through tax-exempt municipal bonds issued by various local municipalities to build or improve airport and maintenance facilities. United was advised during its restructuring that these municipal bonds may have been unsecured (or in certain instances, partially secured) pre-petition debt. In 2006, certain of Uniteds LAX municipal bond obligations were conclusively adjudicated through the Bankruptcy Court as financings and not true leases; however, there remains pending litigation to determine the value of the security interests, if any, that the bondholders have in our underlying leaseholds. See Note 4, Voluntary Reorganization Under Chapter 11, in Combined Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements for further information on this matter and the resolution of the separate SFO municipal bond matter in 2008.
United has guaranteed $270 million of the City and County of Denver, Colorado Special Facilities Airport Revenue Bonds (United Air Lines Project) Series 2007A (the Denver Bonds). This guarantee replaces our prior guarantee of $261 million of bonds issued by the City and County of Denver, Colorado in 1992. These bonds are callable by United. The outstanding bonds and related guarantee are not recorded in the Companys Statements of Consolidated Financial Position. However, the related lease
agreement is accounted for on a straight-line basis resulting in a ratable accrual of the final $270 million payment over the lease term.
Legal and Environmental. The Company has certain contingencies resulting from litigation and claims incident to the ordinary course of business. Management believes, after considering a number of factors, including (but not limited to) the information currently available, the views of legal counsel, the nature of contingencies to which the Company is subject and prior experience, that the ultimate disposition of the litigation and claims will not materially affect the Companys consolidated financial position or results of operations. When appropriate, the Company accrues for these matters based on its assessments of the likely outcomes of their eventual disposition. The amounts of these liabilities could increase or decrease in the near term, based on revisions to estimates relating to the various claims.
The Company anticipates that if ultimately found liable, its damages from claims arising from the events of September 11, 2001, could be significant; however, the Company believes that, under the Air Transportation Safety and System Stabilization Act of 2001, its liability will be limited to its insurance coverage.
The Company continues to analyze whether any potential liability may result from air cargo/passenger surcharge cartel investigations following the receipt of a Statement of Objections that the European Commission (the Commission) issued to 26 companies on December 18, 2007. The Statement of Objections sets out evidence related to the utilization of fuel and security surcharges and exchange of pricing information that the Commission views as supporting the conclusion that an illegal price-fixing cartel had been in operation in the air cargo transportation industry. United received a copy of the Statement of Objections and has provided written and oral responses vigorously disputing the Commissions allegations against the Company. Nevertheless, United will continue to cooperate with the Commissions ongoing investigation. Based on its evaluation of all information currently available, the Company has determined that no reserve for potential liability is required and will continue to defend itself against all allegations that it was aware of or participated in cartel activities. However, penalties for violation of European competition laws can be substantial and a finding that the Company engaged in improper activity could have a material adverse impact on our consolidated financial position and results of operations.
Many aspects of Uniteds operations are subject to increasingly stringent federal, state and local laws protecting the environment. Future environmental regulatory developments, such as in regard to climate change, in the U.S. and abroad could adversely affect operations and increase operating costs in the airline industry. There are a few climate change laws and regulations that have gone into effect that apply to United, including environmental taxes for certain international flights, some limited greenhouse gas reporting requirements and some land-based planning laws which could apply to airports and ultimately impact airlines depending upon the circumstances. In addition, the EU has adopted legislation to include aviation within the EUs existing greenhouse gas emission trading scheme effective in 2012. There are significant questions that remain as to the legality of applying the scheme to non-EU airlines and the U.S. and other governments are considering filing a legal challenge to the EUs unilateral inclusion of non-EU carriers. While such a measure could significantly increase the costs of carriers operating in the EU, the precise cost to United is difficult to calculate with certainty due to a number of variables, and it is not clear whether the scheme will withstand legal challenge. There may be future regulatory actions taken by the U.S. government, state governments within the U.S., foreign governments, the International Civil Aviation Organization, or through a new climate change treaty to regulate the emission of greenhouse gases by the aviation industry. Such future regulatory actions are uncertain at this time (in terms of either the regulatory requirements or their applicability to United), but the impact to the Company and its industry would likely be adverse and could be significant, including the potential for increased fuel costs, carbon taxes or fees, or a requirement to purchase carbon credits.
See Note 14, Commitments, Contingent Liabilities and Uncertainties, in Combined Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements for further discussion of the above contingencies.
Results of Operations
The table below illustrates the year-over-year percentage change in UAL and United operating revenues.
The 2007 special item of $45 million relates to an adjustment of the estimated obligation associated with certain bankruptcy administrative claims, of which $37 million and $8 million relates to the mainline and United Express reporting units, respectively. The table below presents selected UAL and United passenger revenues and operating data from our mainline segment, broken out by geographic region with an associated allocation of the special item, and from our United Express segment, expressed as year-over-year changes.
In 2008, revenues for both mainline and United Express benefited from yield increases of 6.9% and 5.0%, respectively, as compared to 2007. The yield increases are due to industry capacity reductions and fare increases, including fuel surcharges plus incremental revenues derived from merchandising and fees. However, the benefit of higher yields was partially offset by 6.3% and 3.9% decreases in traffic for the mainline and United Express segments, respectively. Consolidated passenger revenues in 2008 included an unfavorable variance compared to 2007 that was partly due to the change in the Mileage Plus expiration policy for inactive accounts from 36 months to 18 months that provided a consolidated estimated annual benefit of $246 million in 2007. In addition, the weak economic environment negatively impacted demand and passenger revenues, particularly in the fourth quarter of 2008.
International PRASM was up 2.4% year-over-year with a related capacity increase of 0.9%. While Latin American PRASM growth was strong at 9.0% year-over-year, it is not a significant part of Uniteds international network. Atlantic performance was driven by lower than average revenue growth in our London and Germany markets, largely due to industry capacity growth of approximately 13% in the U.S. to London Heathrow route and Uniteds 15% growth in Germany. These markets account for approximately 75% of our Atlantic capacity. The Pacific region was impacted by 7% industry capacity growth between the U.S. and China / Hong Kong, which account for approximately 45% of Uniteds Pacific capacity.
Cargo revenues increased by $84 million, or 11%, in 2008 as compared to 2007, primarily due to higher fuel surcharges and improved fleet utilization. In addition, revenues were higher due to increased volume associated with the U.S. domestic mail contract, which commenced in late April 2007, as well as filling new capacity in international markets. A weaker dollar also benefited cargo revenues in 2008 as a significant portion of cargo services are contracted in foreign currencies. However, the Company experienced a significant decline in cargo revenues in the fourth quarter of 2008 due to rationalization of international capacity, falling demand for domestic and international air cargo as the global economy softened, and lower fuel costs driving lower fuel surcharges in late 2008. Decreased cargo revenues resulting from lower demand have a disproportionate impact on our operating results because cargo revenues typically generate higher margins as compared to passenger revenues.
The full-year 2008 trends in passenger and cargo revenues are not indicative of the Companys most recent fourth quarter revenue results. In the fourth quarter of 2008, mainline passenger revenues decreased approximately 10% due to lower traffic as a result of the Companys 12% capacity reduction and lower demand due to the weak global economy. The 2008 capacity reductions, planned 2009 capacity reductions and weak U.S. and global economies are expected to negatively impact revenues in 2009. In late 2008 and early 2009, the Company has experienced decreased travel bookings and lower credit card sales activity which have resulted from the weak global economy and have negatively affected revenues and are expected to continue to negatively impact revenues in 2009. The Company cannot predict the longevity or severity of the current weak global economy and, therefore, cannot accurately estimate the negative impact it will have on future revenues.
Other revenues decreased approximately 11% in 2008 as compared to 2007. This decrease was primarily due to lower jet fuel sales to third parties. The decrease in third party fuel sales had a negligible impact on our operating margin because the associated cost of sales decreased by a similar amount in 2008 as compared to 2007.
The table below illustrates the year-over-year percentage changes in UAL and United operating revenues. The primary difference between UAL and United revenues is due to other revenues at UAL, which are generated from minor direct subsidiaries of UAL.
The table below presents selected UAL and United passenger revenues and operating data from our mainline segment, broken out by geographic region, and from our United Express segment, expressed as year-over-year changes. Passenger revenues presented below include the effects of the $45 million special revenue items on mainline ($37 million) and United Express ($8 million) revenue, which resulted directly from the Companys ongoing efforts to resolve certain bankruptcy pre-confirmation contingencies.
Including the special revenue items, mainline and United Express passenger revenues increased by $924 million and $170 million, respectively, in 2007 as compared to 2006. In 2007, mainline revenues benefited from a 0.6 point increase in load factor and a 7% increase in yield as compared to 2006. In the same periods, United Express load factor was relatively flat while yield and traffic both increased 3% resulting in the 6% increase in revenue. Overall, passenger revenues increased due to a better revenue environment for the industry which was partly due to industry-wide capacity constraint. The Companys shift of some capacity and traffic from domestic to higher yielding international flights also benefited revenues in 2007. In addition, the change in the Mileage Plus expiration period policy also contributed to the increase in revenues in 2007. Mileage Plus revenue, included in passenger revenues, was approximately $169 million higher in 2007. This impact was largely due to a change in the Mileage Plus expiration period policy from 36 months to 18 months, as discussed in Critical Accounting Policies, below. Mileage Plus customer accounts are deactivated after 18 months of inactivity, effective December 31, 2007. Severe winter storms in December 2007 had the estimated impact of reducing revenue by $25 million. Similarly winter storms in December 2006 had an estimated impact of reducing revenue by $40 million.
Cargo revenues increased by $20 million, or 3%, in the year ended December 31, 2007 as compared to the same period in 2006. Freight revenue increased due to both higher yields and higher volume. This increase was partially offset by a reduction in mail revenue due to lower 2007 volume as a result of the termination of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) contract on June 30, 2006. United signed a new USPS contract effective April, 2007.
UAL other operating revenues decreased by $311 million, or 24%, in the year ended December 31, 2007 as compared to the same period in 2006. Lower jet fuel sales to third parties by our subsidiary UAFC accounted for $307 million of the other revenue decrease. This decrease in jet fuel sales was due to several factors, including decreased UAFC sales to our regional affiliates, our decision not to renew various low margin supply agreements to other carriers and decreased sales of excess inventory. This decrease had no material impact on the Companys operating margin, because UAFC cost of sales decreased by $306 million in the year ended December 31, 2007 as compared to the prior year.
The table below includes data related to UAL and United operating expenses. Significant fluctuations are discussed below.
The increase in aircraft fuel expense and regional affiliates expense was primarily attributable to increased market prices for crude oil and related fuel products as highlighted in table below, which presents several key variances for mainline and regional affiliate aircraft fuel expense in the 2008 period as compared to the year-ago period.
Salaries and related costs increased $50 million in 2008. The Companys costs in 2008 include the negative impact of average wage increases and higher benefits expense, as well as severance expense of $106 million due to the implementation of the Companys operating plans, as more fully explained in Note 2, Company Operational Plans, in Combined Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements. In addition, the Company recorded $87 million of expense in 2008 from certain benefit obligation
adjustments, which were primarily due to discount rate changes. These negative impacts were partially offset by lower combined profit and success sharing expense in the 2008 period as compared to the year-ago period due to the unfavorable financial results in 2008 as compared to 2007. In addition, 2008 salaries and related costs benefited from the workforce reductions completed during the year as discussed in Overview above.
Regional affiliate expense increased $307 million, or 10%, in 2008 as compared to the same period last year. Regional affiliate expense increased primarily due to a $342 million, or 37%, increase in Regional Affiliate fuel that was driven by an increase in market price for fuel as highlighted in the fuel table above. The regional affiliate operating loss was $150 million in 2008 period, as compared to income of $122 million in 2007, due to the aforementioned fuel impacts, which could not be fully offset by higher ticket prices, as Regional Affiliate revenues were only 1% higher in 2008.
The Companys purchased services increased $29 million, or 2%, in 2008 as compared to 2007. In 2008, purchased services included a charge of $26 million related to certain projects and transactions being terminated or indefinitely postponed. In 2008, other areas of purchased services did not change significantly as compared to 2007.
Aircraft maintenance materials and outside repairs decreased 6% in 2008 as compared to 2007, primarily due to a decrease in engine and airframe maintenance associated with the retirement of the Companys B737 fleet and more favorable engine maintenance contract rates.
Depreciation expense in 2008 was adversely impacted by $34 million of accelerated depreciation primarily related to the retirement of certain B737 and B747 aircraft and related parts and a $20 million charge to increase the inventory obsolescence reserve. This adverse impact was partially offset by reduced amortization expense in 2008 related to certain of the Companys intangible assets that were fully amortized in 2007.
UAL landing fees and other rent decreased 2% in 2008 due to a reduction in the amount of facilities rented based upon our ongoing efforts to optimize our rented facilities consistent with our operational needs.
Distribution expenses decreased 9% in 2008 as compared to 2007 largely due to the Companys reduction of some of its travel agency commission programs in 2008, resulting in an average commission rate reduction. In addition, the Companys lower passenger revenues due to its capacity reductions in 2008 also contributed to the decrease in related distribution expenses.
Cost of third party sales decreased 14% year-over-year primarily due to a reduction in UAFC expenses. This decrease is consistent with the reduction in UAFC revenues.
The Companys other operating expenses decreased 5% in 2008 compared to the year-ago period. This decrease was partly due to a $29 million litigation-settlement gain, which was recorded in other operating expenses, and decreases in several other expense categories which resulted from the Companys cost reduction program.
As described in Combined Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements, in accordance with SFAS 142 and SFAS 144, as of May 31, 2008 the Company performed an interim impairment test of its goodwill, all intangible assets and certain of its long-lived assets (principally aircraft pre-delivery deposits, aircraft and related spare engines and spare parts) due to events and changes in circumstances during the first five months of 2008 that indicated an impairment might have occurred. In addition, the Company also performed an impairment test of certain aircraft fleet types as of December 31, 2008, because unfavorable market conditions for aircraft indicated potential impairment of value. The Company also performed annual indefinite-lived intangible asset impairment testing at October 1, 2008. As a result of all of its impairment testing, the Company recorded asset impairment charges of $2.6 billion as summarized in the table below. All of these impairment charges are within the mainline segment. All of
the impairments other than the goodwill impairment, which is separately identified, are classified as Other impairments and special items in the Companys Statements of Consolidated Operations. See Note 3, Asset Impairments and Intangible Assets, in Combined Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements and Critical Accounting Policies for additional information, including factors considered by management in concluding that a triggering event under SFS 142 and SFAS 144 had occurred and additional details of assets impaired.
The lease termination and other charges of $25 million primarily relate to the accrual of future rents for the B737 leased aircraft that have been removed from service and charges associated with the return of certain of these aircraft to their lessors.
The Company recorded special operating expense credits of $44 million in 2007. These items have been classified as special because they are directly related to the resolution of bankruptcy administrative claims and are not indicative of the Companys ongoing financial performance. See 2007 compared to 2006, below, for a discussion of these bankruptcy-related special items and Note 4, Voluntary Reorganization Under Chapter 11 of the United States Bankruptcy Code, in Combined Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements for further information on pending matters related to the Companys bankruptcy.
The table below includes the year-over-year dollar and percentage changes in UAL and United operating expenses. Significant fluctuations are discussed below.
Mainline aircraft fuel increased $179 million, or 4%, in the year ended December 31, 2007 as compared to 2006. This net fuel variance was due to a 4% increase in the average price per gallon of jet fuel from $2.11 in 2006 to $2.18 in 2007, resulting from unfavorable market conditions. Included in the 2007 average price per gallon was an $83 million net hedge gain; a net fuel hedge loss of $26 million is included in the 2006 average price per gallon.
UAL salaries and related costs remained relatively flat in 2007 as compared to 2006. The Company recognized $49 million of share-based compensation expense in 2007 as compared to $159 million in 2006. There were no significant grants in 2007 as compared to 2006, which included a large number of grants associated with the Companys emergence from bankruptcy. Additionally, immediate recognition of 100% of the cost of awards granted to retirement-eligible employees on the grant date, together with accelerated vesting of grants within the first twelve months after the grant date, accounted for most of the decrease in share-based compensation expense. Also benefiting the 2007 period was the absence of the $22 million severance charge incurred in 2006. Offsetting the decreased share-based compensation and severance expense was a slight increase in salaries and related costs as a result of certain wage increases as well as a $110 million increase in profit sharing, including related employee taxes, which is based on annual pre-tax earnings. As noted above, this increase is due to increased pre-tax earnings and an increase in the payout percentage from 7.5% in 2006 to 15% in 2007.
Regional affiliate expense, which includes aircraft fuel, increased $117 million, or 4%, during 2007 as compared to 2006. Regional affiliate capacity increased 4% in 2007, which was a major contributor to the increase in expense. Including the special revenue item of $8 million, our regional affiliate operating income was $53 million higher in the 2007 period as compared to the 2006 period. The margin improvement was due to improved revenue performance, which was due to increased yield and traffic, and cost control. Factors impacting regional affiliate margin include the restructuring of regional carrier capacity agreements, the replacement of some 50-seat regional jets with 70-seat regional jets and regional carrier network optimization. All of these improvements were put in place throughout 2006; therefore, we realized some year-over-year benefits in 2007. Regional affiliate fuel expense increased $81 million, or 10%, from $834 million in 2006 to $915 million in 2007 due to a 9% increase in the average price of fuel and a 1% increase in consumption.
Purchased services increased 8% in 2007 as compared to 2006, primarily due to increased information technology and other costs incurred in support of the Companys customer and employee initiatives. Information technology expenses increased due to an increase in non-capitalizable information technology related expenditures, generally occurring during the planning and scoping phases, for new applications in 2007. In addition, airport operations handling and security costs increased due to the new USPS contract and new international routes, among other factors.
Aircraft maintenance materials and outside repairs expense increased $157 million, or 16%, year-over-year primarily due to inflationary increases related to our V2500 engine maintenance contract and the cost of component parts, as well as the impact of increases in airframe and engine repair volumes.
A charge of $18 million in 2007 for surplus and obsolete aircraft parts inventory accounted for approximately half of the 4% increase in depreciation and amortization.
Ongoing efforts to efficiently utilize our rented facilities have offset contractual rent increases, keeping 2007 rent expense in line with 2006 rent expense.
In 2007, Uniteds mainline revenues increased by 6%. During the same period of time, distribution expenses, which include commissions, GDS fees and credit card fees decreased 2% from $798 million in 2006 to $779 million in 2007. This decrease was due to cost savings realized as the Company continues to drive reductions across the full spectrum of costs of sale. Impact areas included renegotiation of contracts with various channel providers, rationalization of commission plans and programs, and continued emphasis on movement of customer purchases toward lower cost channels including online channels. Such efforts resulted in a 9% year-over-year reduction in GDS fees and commissions.
The decrease in cost of sales in 2007 as compared to 2006 was primarily due to lower UAFC third party fuel sales of $307 million as described in the discussion of revenue variances above.
Special items of $44 million in the year ended December 31, 2007 include a $30 million benefit due to the reduction in recorded accruals for pending bankruptcy litigation related to our SFO and LAX municipal bond obligations and a $14 million benefit due to the Companys ongoing efforts to resolve certain other bankruptcy pre-confirmation contingencies. In the eleven months ended December 31, 2006, special items of $36 million included a $12 million benefit to adjust the Companys recorded obligation for the SFO and LAX municipal bonds and a $24 million benefit related to pre-confirmation pension matters. The 2007 and 2006 special items resulted from revised estimates of the probable amount to be allowed by the Bankruptcy Court and were recorded in accordance with AICPA Practice Bulletin 11, Accounting for Preconfirmation Contingencies in Fresh-Start Reporting. See Note 4, Voluntary Reorganization Under Chapter 11 and Note 19, Special Items in Combined Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements for further information on these special items and pending bankruptcy matters.
Other Income (Expense).
The following table illustrates the year-over-year dollar and percentage changes in UAL and United other income (expense).
UAL interest expense decreased $138 million, or 21%, in 2008 as compared to 2007. The 2008 period was favorably impacted by $1.5 billion of total credit facility prepayments and the February 2007 credit facility amendment, which lowered Uniteds interest rate on these obligations. Scheduled debt obligation repayments throughout 2008 and 2007 also reduced interest expense in 2008 as compared to 2007. The Company has a significant amount of variable-rate debt. Lower benchmark interest rates on these variable-rate borrowings also reduced the Companys interest expense in 2008 as compared to 2007. Interest expense in 2007 included the write-off of $17 million of previously capitalized debt issuance costs associated with the February 2007 Amended Credit Facility partial prepayment, $6 million of financing costs associated with the February 2007 amendment and a gain of $22 million from a debt extinguishment. The benefit of lower interest expense in 2008 was offset by a $145 million decrease in interest income due to lower average cash and short-term investment balances and lower investment yields. See Liquidity and Capital Resources below, for further details related to financing activities.
Nonoperating fuel hedge gains (losses) relate to hedging instruments that are not classified as economic hedges. These net hedge gains (losses) are presented separately in the table above for purposes of additional analysis. These hedging gains (losses) are due to favorable (unfavorable) movements in crude oil prices relative to the fuel hedge instrument terms. See Item 7A, Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosures about Market Risk and Note 13, Fair Value Measurements and Derivative Instruments, in Combined Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements for further discussion of these hedges.
There were no significant investment gains or losses in 2008 as compared to 2007 during which the Company recorded a $41 million gain on sale of investment, as discussed below under 2007 compared to 2006.
The $24 million variance in Miscellaneous, net is primarily due to unfavorable foreign exchange rate fluctuations in 2008.
The following table illustrates the year-over-year dollar and percentage changes in other income (expense).
UAL interest expense decreased $109 million, or 14%, in 2007 as compared to 2006. The decrease was due to the February and December 2007 amendments and prepayments of the Amended Credit Facility, which lowered Uniteds interest rate on these obligations and reduced the total obligations outstanding by approximately $1.5 billion. Repayments of scheduled maturities of debt obligations and other debt refinancings, which are discussed in Liquidity and Capital Resources, below, also reduced interest expense. The 2007 period also included a $22 million reduction in interest expense due to the recognition of a gain on debt extinguishment. These benefits were offset by interest expense of $17 million for expensing previously capitalized debt issuance costs that were associated with the February 2007 prepayment of the Amended Credit Facility and $6 million for financing costs incurred in connection with the February amendment of the Amended Credit Facility. The $500 million Amended Credit Facility prepayment in December 2007 increased interest expense by a net of $4 million from expensing $6 million of previously capitalized credit facility costs and recording a gain of $2 million to recognize previously deferred interest rate swap gains.
UAL interest income increased $8 million, or 3%, year-over-year. Interest income increased due to the classification of $6 million of interest income as reorganization items in the January 2006 predecessor period in accordance with SOP 90-7.
The $41 million gain on sale of investment resulted from the Companys sale of its 21.1% interest in Aeronautical Radio, Inc. (ARINC).
The unfavorable variances in miscellaneous income (expense) are primarily due to foreign currency transaction gains of $9 million in 2006 as compared to foreign currency transaction losses of $4 million in 2007.
The relatively small tax benefit recorded in 2008 is related to the impairment and sale of certain indefinite-lived intangible assets, partially offset by the impact of an increase in state tax rates. UAL
recorded income tax expense of $297 million for the year ended December 31, 2007 based an estimated effective tax rate of 43%. See Note 8, Income Taxes, in Combined Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements for additional information.
As of the date of this Form 10-K, the Company believes it has sufficient liquidity to fund its operations for the next twelve months, including funding for scheduled repayments of debt and capital lease obligations, capital expenditures, cash deposits required under fuel hedge contracts and other contractual obligations. We expect to meet our liquidity needs in 2009 from cash flows from operations, cash and cash equivalents on hand, proceeds from new financing arrangements using unencumbered assets and proceeds from aircraft sales and sales of other assets, among other sources. While the Company expects to meet its future cash requirements in 2009, our ability to do so could be impacted by many factors including, but not limited to, the following:
Although the factors described above may adversely impact the Companys liquidity, the Company believes it has an adequate available cash position to fund current operations. UALs unrestricted and restricted cash balances were $2.0 billion and $0.3 billion, respectively, at December 31, 2008. In addition, the Company has recently taken actions to improve its liquidity and believes it may access additional capital or improve its liquidity further, as described below.
Cash Position and Liquidity. As of December 31, 2008, approximately 50% of the Companys cash and cash equivalents consisted of money market funds directly or indirectly invested in U.S. treasury securities with the remainder largely in money market funds that are covered by the new government money market funds guarantee program. There are no withdrawal restrictions at the present time on any of the money market funds in which the Company has invested. In addition, the Company has no auction rate securities as of December 31, 2008. Therefore, we believe our credit risk is limited with respect to our cash balances. The following table provides a summary of UALs net cash provided (used)
by operating, financing, investing and reorganization activities for the years ended December 31, 2008, 2007 and 2006 and total cash position as of December 31, 2008 and 2007.
The Companys cash and short-term investment position represents an important source of liquidity. The change in cash from 2006 to 2008 is explained below. Restricted cash primarily represents cash collateral to secure workers compensation obligations, security deposits for airport leases and reserves with institutions that process our credit card ticket sales. We may be required to post significant additional cash collateral to meet such obligations in the future. The Company has a $255 million revolving commitment under its Amended Credit Facility, of which $254 million and $102 million had been used for letters of credit as of December 31, 2008 and 2007, respectively. In addition, under a separate agreement, the Company had $27 million of letters of credit issued as of December 31, 2008. The increase of letters of credit issued in 2008 was primarily due to the providing of alternative collateral in place of restricted cash deposits, thereby providing the Company with additional unrestricted cash.
Cash Flows from Operating Activities.
UALs cash from operations decreased by approximately $3.4 billion in 2008 as compared to 2007. This decrease was primarily due to the increased cash required for fuel purchases and operating and nonoperating cash fuel hedge losses. Mainline and regional affiliate fuel costs increased $3.1 billion in 2008 over 2007 and nonoperating expenses also increased over the same period largely due to cash and non-cash fuel hedge losses. In addition, certain counterparties to our fuel hedge instruments required the Company to provide cash collateral deposits of approximately $965 million in 2008, which negatively impacted our cash flows during this period as compared to 2007 when no similar deposits were required. A decrease in advance ticket sales also negatively impacted operating cash flow in 2008. Partially offsetting the negative impacts were $500 million of proceeds from the advanced purchase of miles by our co-branded credit card partner as part of the amendment of our marketing agreement and $100 million of proceeds from the extension of the license previously granted to our co-branded credit card partner to be the exclusive issuer of Mileage Plus Visa cards through 2017. In 2008, the Company contributed approximately $240 million and $22 million to its defined contribution plans and non-U.S. pension plans, respectively, as compared to contributions of $236 million and $14 million, respectively, in 2007 for these plans.
The Companys cash from operations improved by more than $500 million year-over-year. The Companys improvement in net income excluding primarily non-cash reorganization items, was a significant factor contributing to the increase in operating cash flows. Operating cash flows for 2007 also include the favorable impact of an increase in non-cash income tax expense of nearly $300 million as compared to 2006. In addition, cash from operations improved due to a reduction of $124 million in cash interest payments in 2007 as compared to 2006 as a result of the financing activities completed in
2007 to reduce debt and interest rates. The improvement in cash generated from operations that was due to better operating performance was further enhanced by a decrease in operating cash used for working capital. In 2007, the Company contributed approximately $236 million and $14 million to its defined contribution plans and non-U.S. pension plans, respectively, as compared to contributions of $270 million in 2006 for these plans.
Cash Flows from Investing Activities.
Net sales of short-term investments provided cash of $2.3 billion for UAL in 2008 as compared to cash used for net purchases of short-term investments of $2.0 billion in 2007. In 2008, the Company invested most of its excess cash in money market funds, whereas in 2007, excess cash was largely invested in short-term investments such as commercial paper. During 2008, the Company also received $357 million of cash that was previously restricted cash held by the Companys largest credit card processor. The release of cash was part of an amendment to the Companys co-branded credit card agreement and largest credit card processor agreement. See Credit Card Processing Agreements, below, for further discussion of the amended agreement and future cash reserve requirements.
In 2008, cash expenditures for property, equipment and software totaled approximately $455 million. Additions to property in 2008 also included $20 million of capitalized interest. In 2007, cash expenditures for property and equipment, software and capitalized interest were $639 million, $65 million and $19 million, respectively. This year-over-year decrease is primarily due to the Companys efforts to optimize its available cash and a reduction in cash used to acquire aircraft as the 2007 capital expenditures included cash used to acquire six aircraft that were previously financed as operating leases, as discussed in 2007 compared to 2006, below.
During 2008, the Company generated $94 million from various asset sales including the sale of five B737 aircraft, spare parts, engines and slots. Certain previously existing agreements in principle to sell additional aircraft in 2008 have been terminated.
Investing cash of $274 million was generated from aircraft sold under sale-leaseback financing agreements. In 2008, United entered into a $125 million sale-leaseback involving nine previously unencumbered aircraft and a $149 million sale-leaseback involving 15 aircraft. See Note 15, Lease Obligations, and Note 16, Statement of Consolidated Cash FlowsSupplemental Disclosures, in Combined Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements for additional information related to these transactions. In addition, the Companys investing cash flows benefited from $41 million of cash proceeds from a litigation settlement resulting in the recognition of a $29 million gain during 2008. The litigation settlement related to pre-delivery advance aircraft deposits.
UALs cash released from restricted funds was $91 million in 2007 as compared to $357 million that was provided by a decrease in the segregated and restricted funds for UAL in 2006. The significant cash generated from restricted accounts in 2006 was due to our improved financial position upon our emergence from bankruptcy. Net purchases of short-term investments used cash of $2.0 billion for UAL in 2007 as compared to cash used for net purchases of short-term investments of $0.2 billion in 2006. This change was due to investing additional excess cash in longer-term commercial paper in 2007 to increase investment yields. Investing activities in 2007 also included the Companys use of $96 million of cash to acquire certain of the Companys previously issued and outstanding debt instruments. The debt instruments repurchased by the Company remain outstanding. See Note 12, Debt Obligations and Card Processing Agreements, in Combined Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements for further information related to the $96 million of purchased debt securities.
The Companys capital expenditures were $658 million and $362 million in 2007 and 2006, respectively, including the purchase of six aircraft during 2007. In the third quarter of 2007, the
Company purchased three 747-400 aircraft that had previously been financed by United through operating leases which were terminated at closing. The total purchase price for these aircraft was largely financed with certain proceeds from the secured EETC financing described below. These transactions did not result in any change in the Companys fleet count of 460 mainline aircraft, or in the amount of aircraft encumbered by debt or lease agreements.
During the fourth quarter of 2007, the Company used existing cash to acquire three aircraft that were previously financed under operating lease agreements. The total purchase price of these three aircraft and the three aircraft acquired in the third quarter of 2007 was approximately $200 million. This purchase did not result in any change in the Companys fleet count of 460 mainline aircraft, but did unencumber three aircraft.
In addition, in the fourth quarter of 2007, the Company utilized existing aircraft deposits pursuant to the terms of the original capital lease to make the final lease payments on three aircraft, resulting in the reclassification of the aircraft from capital leased assets to owned assets. However, the purchase of these three aircraft did not result in a net change in cash because the Company had previously provided cash deposits equal to the purchase price of the aircraft to third party financial institutions for the benefit of the lessor. These transactions resulted in three additional aircraft becoming unencumbered for a total increase of six unencumbered aircraft during the year.
During 2007, the Company sold its interest in ARINC, generating proceeds of $128 million. In 2006, UAL received $43 million more in cash proceeds from investing activities as compared to United primarily due to $56 million of proceeds from the sale of MyPoints, a former direct subsidiary of UAL.
Cash Flows from Financing Activities.
UAL used $253 million for its special distribution to common stockholders (United issued a $257 million d