News Column

American, US Airways to Merge, Create World's Largest Airline

Feb 14, 2013

Gregory Karp

AMR Corp., parent of American Airlines, and US Airways Group will merge, the companies said Thursday.

If the $11 billion merger is approved by regulators and a bankruptcy judge, it will create the world's largest airline, unseating Chicago-based United Continental Airlines. The combination is expected to be completed in the third quarter of this year.

Chicago, where the two companies have little overlap, would remain a major hub for the airline.

American Airlines is the No. 2 carrier in the region, with about 27 percent of the market, 500 flights per day and 9,300 Chicago-based employees. O'Hare is American's second-largest hub, after Dallas-Fort Worth, which will be the headquarters for the merged airline.

By contrast, US Airways flights account for just 2 percent of the airline seats flying out of Chicago's airports, and the carrier has 170 employees in Chicago.

The combined airline will keep the American Airlines name but will be run by US Airways CEO Doug Parker, while American's CEO, Tom Horton, becomes nonexecutive chairman. The terms of the merger wwere unanimously approved Wednesday by the boards of directors of both companies.

American said the combined airline would have a strong financial foundation and robust global network, with more than 6,700 daily flights to 336 destinations in 56 countries. It also pointed to an enhanced Oneworld Alliance, of which American Airlines is a founding member.

"Our combined network will provide a significantly more attractive offering to customers, ensuring that we are always able to take them where they want to travel, when they want to go," Parker said in a statement.

However, consumer groups have been critical of the rumored merger.

"From a consumer standpoint -- individual traveler or corporate travel department -- there are few benefits to offset the negative impacts of this proposed merger that include reduced competition, higher fares and fees and diminished service to small and mid-size communities," said Business Travel Coalition Chairman Kevin Mitchell.

Charlie Leocha, director of the Consumer Travel Alliance, said the merger offered "no discernible consumer benefits."

"Antitrust regulations were created to protect consumers, not to facilitate industry consolidation," he said. "The claim that this merger will provide more destinations is hollow. Whatever new cities are added by a future [American Airlines-US Airways] network are subtracted from the current airline alliance network that US Airways enjoys with United. The net effect is that, overall, consumers are left with nothing new and no improvement to the status quo."

In Chicago, travelers would be largely shielded from those downsides, experts have said. The region's plethora of flights from O'Hare International Airport and Midway, as well as the presence of many discount airlines, should be enough to hold fares largely in check on most routes after the merger.

Customers can continue to book travel and track and manage flights and frequent flyer activity through AA.com or USAirways.com, and will continue to as usual in the AAdvantage and Dividend Miles frequent flyer programs. At first, there are no changes to the frequent flyer programs of either airline as a result of the merger agreement.

The merger is supported by American Airlines' unions.

"The new American Airlines will return to a position of industry preeminence," said Dennis Tajer, spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association, the American Airlines pilot union.

Horton will be board chairman through the first annual meeting of shareholders. After that, Parker will take over as chairman. The board will initially be made up of 12 members, three American Airlines representatives, including Tom Horton, four US Airways representatives, including Doug Parker, and five AMR creditor representatives.

Under the terms of the merger agreement, US Airways stockholders will receive one share of common stock of the combined airline for each share of US Airways common stock then held. American Airlines stakeholders, including labor unions, would own 72 percent of the merged airline, while US Airways stakeholders would own the rest.



Source: (c)2013 the Chicago Tribune. Distributed by MCT Information Services.


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