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Airports may benefit from U.S. move to block airline merger: Fitch

A US Airways Express plane (foreground) departs from a gate past an American Airlines plane (background) at the Ronald Reagan Washington Nat
A US Airways Express plane (foreground) departs from a gate past an American Airlines plane (background) at the Ronald Reagan Washington Nat

(Reuters) - The U.S. government's lawsuit to block a proposed merger between US Airways Group Inc and American Airlines could be "marginally positive" for airports if the move heralds the end of an industry-wide consolidation trend, Fitch Ratings said on Friday.

If consolidation wanes, "airports will generally benefit as more carriers (and competition) increase the routes and require more services," Fitch said in a statement.

Small, regional airports stand to benefit the most because they are at greater risk of airline service cutbacks after large carriers merge, Fitch said. Big international airports could also get a boost.

"If US Airways and AMR remain separate carriers, both may separately need to enhance international services to contend with United and Delta," Fitch said, noting American is "better placed to pursue this course given its larger presence at more favorable international gateway airports" such as New York's JFK, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The picture is complicated by the bankruptcy of AMR, American's parent company.

The suit, filed on Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Justice, six state attorneys general and the District of Columbia, is likely to delay final approval of AMR's plan to exit bankruptcy, of which the merger was a major component.

AMR could decide on a new strategy to exit bankruptcy that includes scaling down its operations, Fitch said. That would leave airports with significant exposure to AMR, like Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport, still susceptible to reductions in AMR's carrier's route network.

(Reporting by Hilary Russ; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

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