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American/US Airways Hook-Up: Plausible?

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (TheStreet -- For months, the rumor has circulated that US Airways (symbol) might merge with American (AMR).

It seems off base. Throughout the airline industry's merger cycle in 2007 and 2008, American never seemed to be seriously interested. Even as Delta (DAL) and Northwest pursued a deal, American stayed on the sidelines, despite Northwest's hub at Tokyo's Narita Airport.

"We looked very carefully at their presence in Narita," CEO Gerard Arpey recently told the airline's fall leadership conference. "(It) wasn't the kind of scale we were looking for."

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American could use a Charlotte hub, too. US Airways has built Charlotte into the country's ninth busiest airport. But would a carrier unwilling to chase Tokyo then turn around and undergo merger turmoil to acquire less valuable Charlotte?

And yet, US Airways CEO Doug Parker is a leading merger advocate, American's situation is in flux, and last week, Continental (CAL) CEO Jeff Smisek discussed the possibility of renewing merger talks with United (UAUA).

A few days after Continental accepted United's invitation to join the Star alliance, Smisek said the carrier is happy to remain independent but would reconsider if the new Delta prospers.

"We are watching Delta to see whether Delta outperforms us financially," Smisek said, in a Bloomberg Television interview. "To date they have not done so. They've gotten bigger, they've gotten more complex, but they haven't gotten profitable."

Were Continental and United to merge, American, the largest carrier 13 months ago, would slide to third. Meanwhile, American is threatened by regulators' reluctance to give it and partner British Airways the same antitrust immunity that competitors have, and by Delta's bid to replace it as a partner to Japan Air Lines.

In trading Tuesday, AMR shares lost 19 cents to close at $5.59, while Delta lost 14 cents, closing at $7.75.

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