American Board Discusses Bankruptcy, CEO

AP Business Writer

FORT WORTH, Texas – Employees and investors waited Thursday for the board of American Airlines to decide whether to put the company into bankruptcy and whether to keep chief executive Donald J. Carty, whose handling of executive perks sparked a labor revolt that threatened to scuttle cost-cutting agreements reached last week.

By midday, there was no news from the board, which met at an undisclosed location in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Board member David Boren said Tuesday he planned to call for Carty’s replacement, saying most directors had been led to believe that the chairman and CEO had disclosed executive bonuses to union leaders before employees approved $1.8 billion in annual concessions. Employees were enraged when they learned of the perks after approving large pay cuts to save the company from bankruptcy.

“Mr. Carty has lost the credibility and trust necessary to effectively lead the company through challenging times,” Boren, one of 12 board members, told the Tulsa World.

A spokesman said American had no comment on the remarks by Boren, the president of the University of Oklahoma and a former Oklahoma governor and U.S. senator.

Adding to the pressure on Carty was Wednesday’s first-quarter financial report from American’s parent, AMR Corp., which posted a worse-than-expected $1.04 billion first-quarter loss.

AMR stock rose Thursday, as investors held out hope the airline can restore labor peace and avoid bankruptcy, which would make the stock virtually worthless. In midday trading on the New York Stock Exchange (news – web sites), AMR shares were up 31 cents to $4.11.

Workers waited for any word from the company board. They overloaded union hot lines and kicked around rumors in the workplace.

“People are just so upset that they’re in the grieving stage,” said Don Videtich, president of a Transport Workers Union that represents 1,200 American mechanics. “They’re still doing their job fixing the planes, but tensions are high. They are not happy. They don’t know if they’re going to have a job.”

AMR plans to lay off about 6,000 workers under the concessions deals that take effect May 1 but says it would eliminate another 10,000 jobs in bankruptcy.

Company officials and union leaders met for 12 hours Wednesday — four Texas congressmen also sat in for part of the meeting — in an effort to salvage last week’s concession deals. A participant who spoke on condition of anonymity said talks ended with no final agreement.

Two of American’s three main unions say they will conduct new elections over the concessions because workers weren’t told of executive bonuses and pension payments before the first vote.

The unions want 30 days for the new election, which is unacceptable to company officials. A source involved in Wednesday’s talks said American was considering allowing a very quick vote but feared workers would reject the concessions unless American improved its offer — and there was no agreement on how to do that.

“I don’t know what the board can offer the unions to appease them at this point, other than Carty, and will that be enough?” said Clark Orsky, a bond analyst with KDP Investment Advisors.

Carty has apologized for not telling workers sooner about the executive benefits. The company canceled the bonuses but not the $41 million in pension funding for 45 executives, which would be paid even in bankruptcy.

AMR’s bonds has fallen sharply in the past week, ever since the crisis over executive perks broke. The company’s 9 percent debentures due in 2012 have dropped from $47 last week to about $33.50 Thursday. Orsky said unsecured bond holders would see little or no recovery if AMR files for bankruptcy.

Airlines have been hit hard by a downturn in travel caused by the weak economy, the 2001 terrorist attacks, fear of new terrorism around the Iraq (news – web sites) war, and the SARS (news – web sites) outbreak. Major carriers like American have also found it difficult to raise prices because of competition from low-fare carriers on many of their routes.

AMR said in January it would lose about $800 million in the January-March quarter, and analysts predicted about $950 million, but some said they weren’t shocked that the company actually lost $1.04 billion.

“You’re in the twilight zone, so the loss could be anything,” said Ray Neidl, an analyst with Blaylock & Partners. “Nobody had a handle on the falloff in traffic from the Iraq war, and I think that’s the difference here.”