Alaska Airlines quashed rumors yesterday that it is considering becoming a third merger partner in the planned marriage of America West...

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Alaska Airlines quashed rumors yesterday that it is considering becoming a third merger partner in the planned marriage of America West and US Airways.

Although Alaska took the unusual step of formally denying the merger talk in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing, the speculation sparked debate about whether the Seattle-based airline should look at combining with another carrier.

Henry Harteveldt, a travel-industry analyst at Forrester Research, said Alaska needs to merge with another airline to gain the critical mass to compete.

“Alaska either needs to buy somebody or prepare to be bought at some point in the future,” Harteveldt said. “They cannot make it alone.”

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Others, including airline analyst Peter Jacobs, doubt Alaska executives would be interested.

“It would be way out of context for what management has been saying it wants to do, which is grow the airline organically,” said Jacobs, who works for Ragen MacKenzie, a division of Wells Fargo Investments.

Alaska is the nation’s ninth-largest airline based on 2004 operating revenues. It is 10th-largest by number of passengers last year, according to the federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Chris Lozier, an airline analyst at Morningstar, liked the idea of a merger for Alaska, saying it would reduce excess capacity in an industry that has trouble making money, partly because there are too many flights chasing too few people.

“This would make some amount of sense,” Lozier said before Alaska denied the rumor.

The speculation began when BusinessWeek earlier in the week quoted Vincent Carrino, president of Brookhaven Capital Management in San Francisco, as saying Alaska’s top management was considering becoming part of the America West-US Airways merger.

Yesterday Carrino said that “Alaska should do the deal.”

Carrino said he is a “significant” investor in both Alaska and America West stock, though neither company lists him as owning more than 5 percent.

Yesterday, Alaska Air Group filed a document with the SEC saying it has no plans to become involved with America West or US Airways.

“While it is Alaska’s normal practice not to comment on rumors such as this, the amount of change currently under way within our industry and at Alaska, as well as the extensive national media coverage repeating this rumor, have the potential of creating uncertainty among our employees,” the filing said.

The company added that it had “not spoken with the investor mentioned in the original news story reporting this rumor.”

Melissa Allison: 206-464-3312 or