How Lee Moak Changed the Airline Industry

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WASHINGTON ( TheStreet) -- As president of the Delta (DAL) pilots union during the six most critical years in the history of what became the country's leading airline, Lee Moak brought a new, more flexible approach that enabled a transformation not only at Delta but also throughout the airline industry.

Today, as the likelihood of a merger between American(AAMRQ.PK) and US Airways (LCC) appears to represent the final stage of three decades of industry consolidation, Moak is particularly visible. Mergers have become the norm. The Delta pilot contract has become the industry standard. And Moak himself is national president of the Air Line Pilots Association, the country's principal airline pilot union, with about 51,000 members at 35 airlines.

In assessing the key players in the industry's 21st century transformation, three individuals stand out. One is Delta CEO Richard Anderson, who arrived at the carrier from Northwest in September 2007 and then pursued the merger that his predecessor had opposed. Another is US Airways CEO Doug Parker, who in 2005 presided over the first merger to follow the industry's wave of bankruptcies, and then provided the spark that ignited the rest of them. As for Moak, he stepped in just before Delta's bankruptcy, signed a contract that seemed to benefit both parties, helped the carrier fend off a hostile merger and then made the pilots key players in putting together a merger that worked. His approach may be described as "for pilots to win, airlines must win too."

"I worked hard on my part of (the Delta/Northwest merger)," Moak said, in an interview. "I have a different philosophy than others in the labor movement and maybe in the airline industry, and Delta has been successful, going into bankruptcy and then restructuring and merging. But I wouldn't say it's just Lee Moak. Lee Moak is the face of a large team of people who believe in the same idea."

Anderson called Moak "an incredible leader" and "on a personal level, an exceptional individual," who has good relationships with several Delta executives. "His father was a Marine sergeant and Lee was a Marine fighter pilot, so when you're talking about someone with discipline and determination, you're talking about Lee Moak," Anderson said, in an interview. "He is also polite, and that makes him effective.

"Maybe some pilots represented by ALPA think it's not always a great idea to be close to management." Anderson said. "I think that Lee has broken the mold and proven that when we all cooperate, the industry does better and the employees do better. (At Delta) we have moved from a regulated era of 'us vs. them' to 'we're all in this together,' and we trust each other and work together to make our airline successful."