WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department said on Thursday that US Airways LCC.N and American Airlines AAMRQA.UL, whose proposed merger has been stalled by government opposition, should not get access to internal analyses prepared in its review of previous airline combinations.
The carriers had asked the Justice Department to turn over documents relating to its approval of four previous airline mergers done over the past decade.
Those mergers involved the combinations of Delta Air Lines Inc (DAL.N) and Northwest Airlines in 2008, United Airlines UAL.N and Continental in 2010, and Southwest Airlines Co (LUV.N) and AirTran in 2011. US Airways bought America West in 2005.
The Justice Department responded on Thursday, asking the special master handling discovery disputes to limit the documents it must produce to factual materials, such as the number of overlapping routes owned by the merging carriers.
It objected specifically to the airlines’ request for the Justice Department’s extensive internal analyses and forecasts.
“Such confidential assessments and internal deliberations are plainly privileged and no court has ever ordered similar disclosures by federal antitrust enforcement officials (or by state officials), as far as we know,” the department said.
The Justice Department filed a lawsuit on August 13 to block US Airways’ merger with American’s parent company AMR Corp, arguing that the deal would lead to higher airfares and other fees. A judge will hear the case without a jury in November and decide whether the deal can go forward.
The airlines have said that the merger is needed to help them compete in a rapidly consolidating industry.
The airlines and the Justice Department could also settle the antitrust lawsuit, which would likely require the companies to sell off certain assets. Any divestitures would require approval from the judge overseeing American’s emergence from bankruptcy.
The airlines have defended the deal in court filings, saying it would create $500 million in savings to consumers annually by creating a stronger competitor to Delta and United.
In its complaint, the Justice Department focused on Reagan National Airport, just outside Washington, D.C., where the two carriers control a combined 69 percent of takeoff and landing slots. It also listed more than 1,000 routes between two cities where the two airlines dominate the market.
The case at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia is No. 1:13-cv-1236.
Reporting by Diane Bartz, editing by G Crosse