NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
UAL, the financially struggling parent of United Airlines, hired bankruptcy lawyers late last year as its cash crunch grew following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a spokesman confirmed to CNN/Money Friday.
But working with bankruptcy lawyers doesn't mean filing is imminent, UAL spokesman Joe Hopkins said.
"We're pursuing getting our costs down and getting the loan guarantee from the Federal government," Hopkins said. "We have a financial recovery plan that considers several elements."
But when pressed on whether the company would file Chapter 11, he refused to comment.
Hopkins' remarks came in response to an article in BusinessWeek magazine speculating that the carrier might file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection by year-end. Hopkins also said the BusinessWeek article erroneously reported that the bankruptcy lawyers were hired earlier this year.
UAL and the airline industry in general have faced difficult challenges in meeting financial goals and keeping customers flying in the past year, as travel declined sharply amid post-Sept. 11 fears and a lagging economy.
The company has applied for $1.8 billion in new loans backed by the federal government and also just launched a marketing alliance with US Airways to boost its revenue.
UAL (UAL: down $1.06 to $4.16, Research, Estimates) shares, which traded at $34 a year ago, have seen a precipitous plunge since then, falling over 80 percent -- farther than shares of any major carrier except US Airways Group (U: down $0.12 to $2.40, Research, Estimates), the report said.
In July alone, UAL shares dropped 48 percent to $5.95 following a weak earnings report and a deteriorating outlook. UAL's market capitalization totals just $332 million versus $1.74 billion for arch rival AMR Corp, according to the BusinessWeek report.
Adding to its woes, credit rating agency Standard & Poor's downgraded the company's debt in June.