WASHINGTON -- The trial in the government’s antitrust lawsuit against the creation of the world’s largest airline will begin Nov. 25, a federal district judge decided Friday.
American Airlines and US Airways wanted their day in court before the end of the year in hopes of salvaging their $11 billion merger, while the Justice Department waned more time to prepare its case.
But Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who’s presided over other antitrust cases, expressed skepticism at the government’s request for a trial date in March, calling it “too far off.”
“It’s a big case,” said Mark Ryan, director of litigation in the Justice Department’s antitrust division.
The judge also seemed wary of the government’s request for 50 depositions, or out of-court-testimony from witnesses prior to the trial. “That takes time,” he said.
The airlines, however, planned to take only 10.
“This is not U.S. v. Microsoft,” said Rich Parker, an attorney for US Airways, referring to a past antitrust case the judge had considered.
Addressing reporters outside the Federal District Court building in Washington, Parker predicted victory.
“We’re going to win,” he said.
In a preview of the trial’s substance, Parker noted that the Justice Department had given its blessing to three large mergers in recent years: Delta-Northwest, United-Continental and Southwest-AirTran, and accused the government of trying to change the rules.
“They approved other mergers,” he said. “Our merger passes muster by 10 miles.”
Ryan, however, cited a number of concerns with the deal, including the transparency of pricing, the possibility of anticompetitive coordination with other airlines, the end of head-to-head competition for numerous city pairs, the end of a popular discount program and the combined airline’s dominance at Reagan National Airport.
Ryan said that the Justice Department’s approval of past mergers was “not a defense for this merger.”
Meanwhile, a federal bankruptcy judge in New York was expected to rule on the merger by Sept. 12. The merger is American’s plan to exit from Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and Judge Sean Lane indicated Thursday that he’s inclined to approve it but wants to hear more about the airlines’ response to the government’s antitrust case.