On the labor front, AMR froze pensions, reducing its liability by billions of dollars, and negotiated new lower-cost contracts with eight union groups, including flight attendants, mechanics and ground workers.
American had asked all employee groups to cut costs by 20 percent. But after months of negotiations, the unions, except for the pilots, agreed to cut costs by 17 percent.
"I think they've done as good a job as can be done, given the fractious relationships that existed going into bankruptcy," said Swelbar, who gives Horton's team a grade of B.
"Horton is going to be able to keep his promise that the company will emerge from bankruptcy in 18 months instead of wallowing in it for three years, like United."
While analysts agree that American has improved its balance sheet, they say the carrier has missed opportunities.
Profit margins are still below those of its main competitors, and labor costs remain relatively high, even with the new contracts, analysts say.
A contract agreement being voted on by pilots does not give American enough flexibility on code sharing and regional feed contracts, Swelbar said.
American had wanted to impose work rules that would allow for more comprehensive code sharing with other domestic carriers, such as JetBlue. But the bankruptcy judge ruled that the airline was overreaching.
Swelbar said expanded code sharing would have bolstered American's revenue, if it remains a stand-alone carrier, without adding unnecessary capacity to the industry.
"There were some opportunities to do something unique to the industry while their costs were going to come down," Swelbar said. "I don't know if American looks terribly different from the rest of the industry."
Without additional domestic capacity to funnel passengers to more profitable international routes, American will likely continue to struggle as a stand-alone carrier, said Bob Herbst, founder of AirlineFinancials.com.
A merger with US Airways would give American the domestic network it needs to compete with United and Delta, he said.
"American gave up a lot to get these labor agreements," Herbst said. "I just don't think they are going to have the revenue to support it."
One major element still missing from American's restructuring is a new pilots contract.
The pilots rejected an offer in August and are voting on a new agreement that includes pay raises and a 13.5 percent equity stake in exchange for more regional-jet flying and work rule changes.
Voting will end Dec. 7.
"The pilot contract is the most important final hurdle, and I think upon reaching that agreement or not, we'll be prepared to put together the plan of reorganization," Horton said.
AMR has until Jan. 28 to file a reorganization plan with the Bankruptcy Court, and creditors will have 60 days to consider it.
Analysts say creditors and the court are unlikely to sign off without an approved pilots contract.
The unsecured creditors committee also appears to be considering a merger offer from US Airways supported by American's three largest unions.
Hunter Keay, an analyst with Wolfe Trahan, said that a new pilots contract would seem to help AMR emerge from bankruptcy on its own but that the Allied Pilots Association and the bondholders could have an unwritten agreement in favor of a merger.
"We believe a tacit agreement exists between [the pilots union] and the [creditors committee] simply because APA leadership is endorsing this [agreement] and APA leadership wants a merger with [US Airways]," Keay wrote in a research note to investors Friday.
"If APA members ratify the [agreement] and no merger is announced, we believe AMR pilots would move to recall much APA leadership."
But what the creditors decide is anyone's guess.
"Unsecured creditors, who may ultimately determine which direction the company goes, are a true unknown, and though we believe this group tends to side with AMR management, they may ultimately decide where the best value lies for their claims in reviewing all deals," Maxim Group analyst Ray Neidl told investors Monday.
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