Experts are still debating the future of Republic Airways after the regional operator announced last week it plans to buy two full-service carriers, Midwest Airlines and Frontier Airlines. If both deals are closed, Republic would become the 11th biggest U.S. carrier, at a time when many of the majors are cutting down on their use of regional flights. "The regional business is becoming more difficult, and there will be a shakeout," says industry consultant George Hamlin. Meanwhile, Republic Chairman Bryan Bedford says the strategy is to play "offense and defense" at the same time. "We've signed on to buy two quality brands that can operate profitably, and yet we're maintaining the core business we currently enjoy," he says.