7 Hot Topics in the US Airways/American Merger

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CHARLOTTE ( TheStreet) -- US Airways CEO Doug Parker visited Charlotte last week, making his first appearance in his airline's largest hub since a planned merger with American was announced last month.

At meetings with employees, business leaders and reporters, Parker touted the benefits of the merger, although he said that wasn't really needed with the first two groups. He said employees are "so excited -- I just wanted to come celebrate with them," and he praised Charlotte business leaders, whom he said "really do understand" that the merger benefits Charlotte, as does having an airport with low operating costs for airlines.

"Every city doesn't get it as well as Charlotte does," Parker said. He described a "virtuous circle" where US Airways offers a lot of flights -- currently 609 daily departures -- and "the business community can attract more and more companies, and once more companies come, we can (offer) more flights."

At Charlotte Douglas International Airport, US Airways operates the fourth-largest single airline hub operation in the world -- after Atlanta, Dallas and Houston -- even though "this is not the fourth-largest travel market in the world or close to it," Parker said.

Parker praised veteran airport director Jerry Orr, saying he "has done a phenomenal job of building an airport for this community." Orr, however, is 72, and concern over his impending retiremen, has led to an effort to transfer airport oversight from the city to a regional transportation authority, with members appointed by Raleigh politicians.

The effort is a big story in Charlotte, reviving the decades-old battle between the state and its biggest city as well as the battle between the Republican-controlled N.C. legislature and a city where Democrats hold a city council majority and the mayoralty. During an hour-long press conference with Charlotte media, many of the questions for Parker focused on that conflict.

Parker said US Airways prefers not to take sides in the jurisdictional dispute, but does want to be consulted on the selection of the next airport director, given that "we know who are the best ones (because) we fly to every airport in the U.S., and we think our input would be valuable."

Here are six additional hot topics that concern US Airways as a likely merger moves closer.

Divestiture

As the anti-trust division of the Justice Department reviews the proposed merger, the principal question is whether it will require the carriers to divest "slots" at Washington Reagan National Airport. Slots are assigned takeoff and landing times, assigned at congested airports.

Speaking to a Senate subcommittee on March 19, Parker revealed, for the first time, that US Airways views National as a hub, one where it offers 220 daily departures to 69 destinations. Many are smaller cities. Parker made the case that if regulators require divestitures, small cities will likely lose flights, because they are the least profitable destinations and because only an airline that operates a hub at National can economically justify them.