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US Airways, American seek Nov. trial date for merger

US Airways and American Airlines said Thursday they want a Nov. 12 court date to argue their case for a merger in front of a judge, but the U.S. Department of Justice wants to schedule the trial next year.

A federal judge ultimately will make the scheduling decision. US Airways CEO Doug Parker told employees in an email Thursday that the company is trying to get to court as quickly as possible to fight the Justice Department.

“Along with our colleagues at American Airlines, we are looking forward to proving in a Court what all of us have known all along – that this merger is good for competition and as a result, extremely good for consumers,” said Parker.

He also said that over the coming weeks, the company will provide employees with more information about how they “can best support this effort.”

Several US Airways and American unions, who favor the merger as a path to higher wages and more career stability, have taken out newspaper ads, contacted politicians and discussed steps such as picketing to show their support.

The Justice Department shocked US Airways and American executives when it sued last week to block the merger on antitrust grounds. It claims the combination would drive up ticket prices and fees for fliers by eliminating competition.

The new American, which Parker would head, would be the world’s largest airline, with 108,000 employees and 6,700 daily flights. It also would control the largest share of the U.S. domestic flying market. Charlotte Douglas International Airport would be its second-largest hub, after Dallas/Fort Worth.

Parker said last week that the companies planned to win in court and close the merger this year. However, a November court date could put that timetable in peril. A US Airways spokeswoman said Thursday that the airline isn’t commenting on a potential closing date now.

The Justice Department is asking for a court date up to six months from now, which would put a trial in February.

In a legal filing, US Airways estimates the trial will take 10 days.

US Airways and American had planned to close their merger as soon as the end of this month or early September. Parker and several other top US Airways executives had already moved to the Dallas area, where the merged company would be headquartered.

Any delays in scheduling the trial now will cost US Airways and American, the airlines argued in a legal filing.

“Both Airlines face additional burdens until this uncertainty is resolved, including uncertainties in winning customers and retaining people when no one knows for sure what the future holds,” the airlines wrote. The Justice Department’s attempt to block the merger is “having considerable negative effect on employee energy and morale.”

And, if the airlines don’t have regulatory approval by Dec. 13, either one could walk away from the merger at any time, according to the legal filing. That would “introduce even greater uncertainty for the Airlines’ employees and customers.”

Proposed settlement?

The Justice Department and the airlines have both said they would be open to hearing a proposed settlement to allow the merger to proceed. But neither has proposed any steps the airlines could take to make the merger acceptable, such as divesting takeoff or landing slots, and the fight is likely to end in a courtroom.

“We look forward to beginning this trial in November so we can complete our journey toward building the new American and deliver on the promise of this merger,” said Tom Horton, chief executive of American’s parent company, AMR Corp.

AMR Corp. has been in bankruptcy since late 2011, and the merger was the cornerstone of its plan to exit bankruptcy.

Staff researcher Maria David contributed.

Portillo: 704-358-5041 On Twitter @ESPortillo
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