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American and US Airways to become the world's largest airline (+video)

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In April last year, American's three largest unions voiced support for a US Airways takeover. And in May, AMR's official unsecured creditors committee convinced Horton to explore a merger as an alternative to an independent restructuring plan.

Parker "recognized who effectively would be the arbiters of this deal and he put together a campaign to bring them over to his side," said Robert Mann, an airline consultant in Port Washington, New York.

A person familiar with the discussions said Parker and US Airways President Scott Kirby decided early in the process that they would only proceed if they had the support of American employees. "That was a lesson learned from Delta. If we don't have them, it won't happen. And they led the way," the person said.

On Wednesday, the boards of AMR and US Airways approved the $11 billion merger, and an announcement is expected early on Thursday. 

Stars aligned 

A big point in Parker's favor was the fact that American has had difficult labor relations for more than a decade. The pilots union rejected a new concessionary contract last August, in part due to fears that approval would be seen as a vote of confidence in AMR management and undermine the case for US Airways.

The pilots grudgingly approved the contract a few months later, but only after AMR's influential bondholders assured the union that they would not support any restructuring plan unless American remakes its board and management team.

"There's a toxic employee situation at AMR because frankly the employees don't trust their management," said Michael Boyd, an Evergreen, Colorado-based aviation consultant whose firm has worked with Parker.

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