Judge: March too late for airline-merger trial
WASHINGTON — A federal judge said Friday that the government's lawsuit to block the proposed merger of American Airlines and US Airways will start Nov. 25, a timetable favored by the airlines.
The U.S. Justice Department had wanted the trial to start in March, saying it needed more time to prepare for the complex case. The airlines said that such a long delay would threaten their merger.
U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said in court that March was “too far off.”
The companies were close to completing a merger to form the world's biggest airline, but the Justice Department and six states sued this month to block the deal. They said it would reduce competition and lead to higher prices for travelers. They said that the combined American-US Airways would be too dominant at Reagan National Airport outside Washington and on many routes around the country.
While the hearing before Kollar-Kotelly was mainly procedural, aimed at establishing timetables for reviewing documents and other preparations for trial, attorneys for the two sides did manage to preview their key arguments.
The two airlines argue that their merger would increase competition by forming another big competitor to United Airlines and Delta Air Lines, which grew through recent mergers. Richard Parker, an attorney representing US Airways Group Inc., pointed at the hearing to the presence of other competitors including Southwest, which carries more passengers within the United States than any airline.
“We will be talking to these airlines,” Parker said. A review of other airlines' documents and interviews of their executives will establish that competition in the industry is robust, he suggested.
But the Justice Department's lead attorney maintained that the proposed merger raised a number of competitive issues, including prices and the impact on some markets. The government will want to question airline executives about, for example, how fees are set for baggage and ticket changes, Justice attorney Mark Ryan said.
And Ryan said it's impossible to accept the airlines' assertion that a plan to eliminate some flights would make the combined new carrier more efficient and save consumers money, without the government being able to see details of the plan.
Parker cited the government's previous approval of big-airline mergers such as Northwest with Delta and United with Continental. “By that standard, our merger passes muster by 10 miles,” he insisted.
Ryan retorted, “What we did in past mergers is not a defense to this merger.”
Justice Department lawyers have also pointed to recent record profits at both airlines — July's profit was a one-month high at American parent AMR Corp., which has been cutting costs under bankruptcy protection — to argue that the companies don't need to merge to survive.
The airlines viewed the trial's timing as crucial. In a court filing this week, their lawyers expressed concern that a delay itself — not the merits of the government's case — could sink the merger. The antitrust lawsuit has left the airlines “in limbo,” they said, and they could stay there “for only so long before they need to make independent plans.”
Both sides said in a filing that they were open to a settlement that would avoid a trial, although each made comments suggesting that they were not close to agreement.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Impact fees garner support from state community leaders
- Concurrent Technologies focuses on developing batteries for renewable energy, electric cars
- American Eagle notches $61.6M 4Q profit
- Foreign central banks buck Fed, cut interest rates
- Auto industry slows for bad weather, but stays on course
- Profit increases 12% at Dick’s Sporting Goods
- Oil glut forces producers to seek out more storage tanks
- Trade deals good way to add jobs, CEOs say
- Toyota Mirai to run on hydrogen fuel cells, widen green-vehicle divide
- Mylan closes $5.3B tax-lowering deal with Abbott Labs
- Highmark lays off nearly 100 workers, mostly in IT, as membership declines