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States join probe of US Airways-American Airlines merger

Jul 01, 2013 6:32 pm

Skift Take

It isn’t unusual for state attorneys general to get involved in antitrust probes, and the fact that this one is being led by the State of Texas, where American Airlines is headquartered, should be a tip-off as to where this investigation is headed.

— Dennis Schaal

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US Airways Group Inc.’s proposed $11 billion merger with AMR Corp.’s American Airlines will be investigated for its effect on consumers and competition by 18 state attorneys general led by Texas.

“We can confirm that Texas leads among states in the review of the merger,” Tom Kelley, a spokesman for Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, said in an e-mail. He declined to comment further, citing a confidentiality agreement the attorneys general signed with the airlines.

The group of states joins the U.S. Justice Department, which is already reviewing whether the combination will create a monopoly in any markets. American will ask the bankruptcy judge overseeing its Chapter 11 case in Manhattan to confirm the airline’s reorganization plan at an Aug. 15 hearing.

The states are concerned that the combined carriers might reduce connecting flights to cut costs, which could hurt consumers, a person familiar with the matter said. They also want to ensure that the new American doesn’t use Washington’s Reagan National Airport as a hub, which could reduce the number of flights from regional airports to the nation’s capital, said the person, who asked not to be named because the probe is confidential.

American Airlines declined to comment on the state probe, said Michael Trevino, a spokesman for the Fort Worth, Texas- based carrier. Tempe, Arizona-based US Airways also declined to comment, said Michelle Mohr, a spokeswoman.

Past Probes

Scrutiny of airline mergers by states attorneys general alongside the Justice Department isn’t unusual, and has been a factor in previous airline mergers, the person said. The attorneys general probing the merger are from Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia, the person said.

US Airways and American agreed in February to combine as part of AMR’s bankruptcy restructuring. AMR creditors will own 72 percent of the equity in the combined airline, while 28 percent will go to US Airways shareholders. Together, they will pass United Continental Holdings Inc. as the biggest airline, based on passenger traffic.

In addition to securing approval from the bankruptcy court and antitrust regulators, US Airways shareholders have to support the combination in a July 12 vote before the merger can close. The companies have said they expect that to happen in the third quarter.

The case is In re AMR Corp., 11-bk-15463, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

–Editors: Fred Strasser, Michael Hytha

To contact the reporters on this story: Sara Forden in Washington at sforden@bloomberg.net; Mary Schlangenstein in Dallas at maryc.s@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net; Ed Dufner at edufner@bloomberg.net.

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