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April 9, 2010 5:17 PM

Up in the Air: Who'll Get the Work in Potential United-US Airways Merger?

Posted by Brian Baxter

While pilots and flight attendants are already publicly expressing opposition to a reported merger between United Airlines and US Airways, lawyers familiar with previous merger talks between the two aviation giants are keeping quiet.

Representatives for both companies have denied any plan to create one of the world's largest airlines. But the two rivals are not strangers to merger talks.

The Am Law Daily previously reported that three firms were in line for key advisory roles the last time United Airlines and its Chicago-based parent company UAL entertained the prospect of a merger with US Airways. Those talks came almost two years ago, following the completion of a long-anticipated merger between Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines in April 2008.

UAL and US Airways eventually called off those talks, but are reportedly getting chatty again in hopes that brighter prospects for the commercial aviation industry can help overcome any consumer concerns and antitrust hurdles that might scuttle a merger. (Of course, there are also reports that Continental is waiting on the sidelines to restart its own merger talks with UAL; talks between the two airlines also broke down two years ago.)

We put in calls to Cravath, Swaine & Moore corporate partners Scott Barshay and Allen Finkelson, as well as antitrust partner Katherine Forrest, but had not heard back by the time of this post. Cravath advised UAL on the May 2008 merger talks with US Airways that ultimately collapsed. A Cravath spokeswoman told us the firm would have no comment on current reports of merger talks between UAL and US Airways.

Bruce Rabinovitz, chair of the aviation practice group at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr in Washington, D.C., also declined to comment when contacted by The Am Law Daily. UAL has used Wilmer as its regulatory counsel in the past.

A call to Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft antitrust chair Charles "Rick" Rule was not returned by the time of this story. Rule advised US Airways on its last go-around with UAL two years ago and previously advised the Tempe, Ariz.-based airline on its failed attempt to merge with Delta when he was a partner at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson. (Rule left the firm for Cadwalader in April 2007.)

Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom represented US Airways when it went through a series of restructuring initiatives earlier this decade--the airline filed for bankruptcy in 2002 and 2004--and later advised America West Airlines in 2005 when it acquired and merged with US Airways. The new company kept the US Airways name and moved its headquarters to Tempe, where America West was based.

Skadden restructuring cochair John "Jack" Butler, Jr., a current American Lawyer Dealmaker of the Year who once told The Am Law Daily that the US Airways engagement was one of the most memorable of his career, did not respond to a request for comment. M&A partner Peter Atkins, another Skadden hand familiar with US Airways work, declined to comment.


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