- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 17, 2005

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Some America West Airlines stockholders expressed guarded optimism yesterday about the carrier’s proposed merger with US Airways and concern about whether such a change would lead to job cuts for the Arizona-based airline.

But investors and employees learned no details at America West’s stockholders meeting of negotiations between the two airlines.

Questioned repeatedly about the deal, America West Chief Executive Officer Doug Parker declined to discuss the merger but said that he has the interests of the company’s 13,000 employees at heart.

“I don’t like this limbo either,” Mr. Parker said.

America West, the country’s eighth-largest carrier, has been in advanced negotiations with Arlington-based US Airways to create an airline with nationwide reach that can be better positioned to compete with discount rivals, such as Southwest Airlines, AirTran Airways and JetBlue Airways. Reports have said a deal could be made public as soon as this week.

America West is considered by some analysts to be healthier than US Airways.

US Airways, the seventh-largest carrier, has been in Chapter 11 bankruptcy since last year, its second trip to bankruptcy court in two years.

Tempe-based America West considered buying ATA Airlines late last year after that airline filed for bankruptcy, but it eventually backed away as the costs rose.

Ron Gielen, an America West stockholder from Chandler, Ariz., said he hoped the merger comes to fruition and that it proves profitable for the company.

But he tempered his optimism with the views of those who question the wisdom of combining a company in bankruptcy with another struggling business.

“There are a lot of experts that say it’s a bad thing,” Mr. Gielen said before company officials spoke to stockholders.

Eric Donzella, a stockholder who lives in Phoenix, said the combined company would offer consumers more locations to fly to, because US Airways is focused on the East Coast and America West serves mostly the West.

“If the merger is for the better, I’ll take it,” Mr. Donzella said. “It seems like that would expand their routes more, make for better business.”

Seymour Licht, a stockholder from Scottsdale, Ariz., and the most vocal merger opponent at the meeting, said he worried that some employees will get squeezed out as the combined company would try to reduce duplication of services.

“We have two weak sisters,” Mr. Licht said. “One of them is in intensive care, the other is in the emergency room. Now we are going to merge them together, and we are going to form one terminally ill patient.”

Debra Ewing, an America West gate agent for five years, said she was concerned that the addition of US Airways workers would water down the seniority that many America West employees have built up.

“We are concerned that we will lose our seniority, that we will not be able to hold the shifts that we want, that we won’t be able to hold the days off that we want, that we have worked so hard to get,” Miss Ewing said.

Shares of America West Holdings Corp. fell 10 cents, or 2.25 percent, to close at $4.35 yesterday on the New York Stock Exchange.

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