American's CEO says airline turnaround nearly done

American Airlines CEO Thomas Horton suggests that his management team has earned the right to keep leading the company even if it merges with US Airways.

The approval of a new labor contract by pilots last week was the last major hurdle American and parent AMR Corp. needed to clear before emerging from bankruptcy protection in the next few months. American is positioned to finish its restructuring under the bankruptcy law faster than Delta Air Lines and United Airlines did theirs last decade.

"If you look at the speed and the result of this restructuring, I think it stands apart from all the others," Horton said Monday. "This team has done an outstanding job, and I'm very proud of them."

American's unions, however, are pushing for new management, and some analysts agree with them.

Tom Hoban, a spokesman for the American Airlines pilots' union, said a merger with US Airways would make American bigger and "bring in a revitalized management team". He said employees want "leadership and vision, something that has been sadly lacking" since Robert Crandall retired as American's CEO in 1998.

Vicki Bryan, an analyst with bond-research firm Gimme Credit, said AMR's management hasn't done enough to boost revenue or reduce debt. "They're not even paying all their bills (because of bankruptcy protection), and they're still not as profitable as US Airways," she said.

In the third quarter, AMR lost $238 million. It would have earned $110 million excluding bankruptcy-related costs and other special items. US Airways Group Inc. earned $245 million despite having less than half of AMR's revenue.

Other airline industry observers believe Horton should run AMR, whether or not there is a merger.

Darryl Jenkins, a longtime industry consultant, said Horton is correcting old problems at American, including high labor costs and a lack of focus on attracting high-paying corporate travelers.

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