US govt now seeks March trial in American-US Airways challenge

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Updated with comments from American and US Airways

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) is proposing a 3 March 2014 trial date in its challenge of the proposed merger of American Airlines and US Airways, citing the need for an "extensive" discovery period.

"[American and US Airways] attempt to rush this matter to a trial on the merits in fewer than 75 days creates the very real risk that a challenge to a $14 billion merger will be resolved on less than an appropriate record," the agency says in a filing with the US District Court for the District of Columbia today.

It says that it needs the four months for document and expert discovery, as well as for any pretrial motions, and cites the 166-day - about five and a half months - discovery period in the challenged merger of US telecom companies AT&T and T-Mobile.

"In a case of this magnitude, that is hardly a leisurely schedule," says the DOJ.

American and US Airways are seeking a 12 November court date for the trial, which is expected to last 10 days.

The DOJ had previously sought a 10 February 2014 trial date, however, the presiding judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly has a six- to eight-week criminal trial starting 14 January 2014 that conflicts with the February date.

American and US Airways call the date "unreasonable" and cite the fact that the DOJ has been investigating the merger for more than 16 months already.

"Since 2001, DOJ merger cases litigated to a decision have had an average time from the DOJ’s complaint to trial of 70 days," they say. "The government cannot justify its slow trial schedule."

The DOJ repeats its position in the filing that both American and US Airways are independently successful companies - citing their most recent second quarter profits - and that a merger would remove "precompetitive" expansion that the former planned to undertake post-bankruptcy.

American and US Airways say that the merger is "predicated" on growth and will create a "stronger alternative" to Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines.

All of the parties will meet with Kollar-Kotelly for a trial scheduling conference in Washington DC on 30 August.