American Airlines and US Airways are asking for a quick trial in the antitrust case brought by the Justice Department to block their proposed merger, saying the deal is at risk if they have to wait until early 2014 to go to court.
In a court filing Wednesday, the airlines argue that Justice's request for a March trial in the case was unreasonable and an attempt to kill the deal through delay.
"A trial delayed according to the [Justice Department's] schedule would knock the bottom out of this merger," the airlines' filing argues. "Two independent companies can be asked to stay in limbo for only so long before they need to make independent plans."
Justice filed the antitrust suit earlier this month, charging the combination would hurt airline passengers by reducing choices and driving up costs. The airlines argue the $11 billion merger of their two networks announced in February would give customers more choices and reduce overall costs, and would spur competition.
The government has said that the trial should be scheduled for March to allow for the most complete analysis and examination of the deal. It argued that antitrust cases are based on "complicated legal, factual and technical (particularly economic) questions" and therefore require "extensive discovery."
Justice contends that American Airlines' financial turnaround since its November 2011 bankruptcy filing, including the posting of its largest monthly profit on record in July, is proof that the airlines could survive as independent carriers.
But the airlines argue that Justice has been looking into a potential merger since April 2012 and has had plenty of time to do the analysis it needs before trial.
"If the [airlines] can be ready on November 12, so can the [Justice Department]," said the airlines' filing.
The airlines got some good news in another court Thursday when bankruptcy court judge Sean Lane said he found the arguments in favor of the merger persuasive and that he was leaning towards giving approval of the deal in that venue. But even if he approves the deal the airlines will need to win the separate antitrust court fight in order to complete the merger.
In a separate joint court filing in the antitrust case, both Justice and the airlines said they are open to a settlement without the case going to trial, but neither side suggested they are close to a deal. They also said they did not believe mediation will resolve their differences.
The two sides are due in a Washington courtroom Friday for a hearing at which U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly could rule on when the trial will take place.
Jim Corridore, airline equity analyst for S&P Capital IQ, raised his recommendation on US AIrways ( shares Thursday, citing both the recent 18% drop in price since the antitrust case was announced, and the signs that there two sides are open to deal. )
"We think the valuations have gotten out of whack," he said. "And we think there has to be a solution that involves this merger not being blocked -- perhaps the airlines giving up more airport slots than they originally proposed."
Shares of US Airways closed up 4% in trading Thursday.