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Airline merger trial to start in November, judge says

A US Airways jet departed Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport as an American Airlines jet sat on the tarmac of the airport in Arlington, Va., in February.

Larry Downing/Reuters/File

A US Airways jet departed Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport as an American Airlines jet sat on the tarmac of the airport in Arlington, Va., in February.

WASHINGTON — 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 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.

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US 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, aimed at establishing timetables for reviewing documents and other preparations for trial, lawyers for the two sides did manage to preview their key arguments.

The two airlines say 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, a lawyer representing US Airways Group Inc., pointed at the hearing to 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,’’ said Parker. A review of other airlines’ documents and interviews of their executives will establish that competition in the industry is robust, he suggested.

But the Justice Department’s lead attorney maintained that the proposed merger raised a number of issues on competitiveness, including prices and the impact on some markets.

The government will want to question airline executives about, for example, how fees are set for baggage and ticket changes, Justice lawyer Mark Ryan said.

Ryan also said it is impossible to accept the airlines’ assertion that a plan to eliminate some flights would make the combined new carrier more efficient and save consumers money, without the government being able to see details of the plan.

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