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Airline antitrust trial scheduled in fall

– A federal judge said Friday that the government’s lawsuit to block the proposed merger of American Airlines and US Airways will start Nov. 25, a timetable favored by the airlines.

The U.S. Justice Department had wanted the trial to start in March, saying it needed more time to prepare for the complex case. The airlines said that such a long delay would threaten their merger.

U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said in court that March was “too far off.”

The companies were close to completing a merger to create the world’s biggest airline, but the Justice Department and six states sued this month to block the deal. They said it would reduce competition and lead to higher prices for travelers. They said that the combined American-US Airways would be too dominant at Reagan National Airport outside Washington and on many routes around the country.

While the hearing before Kollar-Kotelly was mainly procedural, attorneys for the two sides did manage to preview their key arguments.

The two airlines argue that their merger would increase competition by creating another big competitor to United Airlines and Delta Air Lines, which grew through recent mergers. Richard Parker, an attorney representing US Airways Group Inc., cited the presence of other competitors including Southwest, which carries more passengers within the United States than any airline.

“We will be talking to these airlines,” Parker said. A review of other airlines’ documents and interviews of their executives will establish that competition in the industry is robust, he suggested.

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