There's an unspoken incentive for Horton to bash US Airways and quash merger speculation — drive down his rival's stock price and make a merger less expensive.
One reason a combination may be less likely is that American has been getting stronger as part of its bankruptcy restructuring. Revenue is growing and costs are down. The airline is shedding money-losing routes and has ambitious orders for new planes with some of the most advanced interiors available.
Combining with another airline is not out of the question for American, Horton said during the interview, which took place after an industry conference in Boston. But he said the best time to merge is when you are at "a position of greatest strength." That could mean a combination during or after the bankruptcy process.
American has exclusive rights until the end of December to present its own plan for restructuring to the bankruptcy court. Ultimately, it will be the bankruptcy judge and the airline's creditors that decide its fate. American's three unions hold a third of the creditors' votes. Horton noted that the union leadership's feelings are "not reflective of how the 80,000 people of American feel. So stay tuned."
There would be some advantages to a merger for American. US Airways has a strong domestic presence that would feed well into American's European and Latin American routes. Combined, they would be nearly equal in size to rivals Delta Air Lines and United Continental Holdings Inc. That size would help to steal away large corporate contracts.
But Horton notes that US Airways is "not the only option." There has been talk about a merger with JetBlue Airways Corp. or Alaska Air Group, Inc., but the leaders of both airlines said publicly that they want to remain independent.
Scott Mayerowitz can be reached at http://twitter.com/GlobeTrotScott.
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