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Thursday, January 26, 2012 - Page updated at 10:00 p.m.

US Airways confirms it's studying merger with American Airlines

By Mary Schlangenstein
Bloomberg News

DALLAS — US Airways Group, the smallest full-service domestic carrier, on Wednesday confirmed its interest in exploring a deal with American Airlines parent AMR Corp. in bankruptcy.

Millstein & Co., Barclays and the law firm of Latham & Watkins have been hired to help Tempe, Ariz.-based US Airways evaluate options, Chief Executive Officer Doug Parker said on a conference call with analysts and investors.

His comments marked the first acknowledgment of any AMR-related interest, after US Airways declined to respond last week when two people familiar with the matter said a potential merger was under study. With the industry shrinking in tie-ups in the past four years, further contraction is possible while "no longer imperative," Parker said Wednesday.

"We can now decide whether it's best to operate as a stand-alone or to participate in further consolidation over time," Parker said. US Airways is "always interested in studying value-enhancing opportunities," he said.

American, the third-largest U.S. airline, filed for Chapter 11 protection on Nov. 29 after annual losses that began in 2008. That step reignited industry speculation that the carrier would be a takeover target, with US Airways, the fifth-largest U.S. carrier, most often cited by analysts as a partner.

TPG Capital and Delta also are evaluating possible bids for American, people familiar with the matter have said. TPG and Delta have said they aren't commenting about any interest in AMR, and Delta CEO Richard Anderson deflected a question about industry mergers on a conference call Wednesday.

AMR has declined to discuss any merger-related questions. CEO Tom Horton has signaled his interest in keeping the airline independent, telling employees in a memo Tuesday that the company is working to "help American get back on top."

US Airways is preparing a merger plan that would boost revenue and fix a weak domestic route system at American, the people familiar with the matter said last week. President Scott Kirby is leading the analysis, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private.

US Airways reported a fourth-quarter profit that beat analysts' estimates.

A US Airways-American combination would hold about a 20 percent domestic market share, according to independent airline analyst Jeff Straebler. That would put the blended carrier on roughly equal footing with United Continental, Delta and Southwest, he said last week.

United is now the biggest U.S. carrier after it merged with Continental in 2010. No. 2 Delta bought Northwest Airlines in 2008, and No. 3 Southwest acquired AirTran last year.

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