Airline M&A: Gordon Bethune's Predictions

Gordon Bethune, former chairman and chief executive of Continental Airlines, offered CNBC his industry outlook -- particularly on mergers and acquisitions.

Bethune -- now a consultant at Pardus Capital Management -- says such deals are inevitable: "The industry needs another round of consolidation," as no U.S. airline can compete internationally.

Delta Air Lines has reportedly received authorization from its board to conduct combination talks with both Northwest Airlines and United Airlines.

The UAL offer would be far "easier politically" in terms of winning labor's blessing, he says.


CNBC Investors' Toolkit: Delta


But what if Delta should join with Northwest instead? Then look to see Continental galvanized into action and seeking an "optimal pairing" with United -- if the latter "were still available."

One dark horse in the air arena: American Airlines' parent AMR. "They won't just sit back and watch the paint dry" while others take action, Bethune says. AMR's deep pockets are sure to alter the expected M&A dynamics.

And look to "Singapore and the Europeans." He reminded viewers that Air France KLM is Delta's chief European partner -- while United is allied with Germany's Lufthansa. Thus, the French-Dutch carrier is likely to urge Delta toward Northwest, setting the other merger dominoes falling into place.

The Amex Airline Index slid 0.5 percent Friday, as oil prices rose again on the Nymex.