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The Continuing Curse of US Airways

CHARLOTTE ( TheStreet) -- At the end of 2012, US Airways (LCC) was sitting on top of the world.

Its stock had risen 163%, for the best performance among the Fortune 500. CEO Doug Parker was the new face of the airline industry, credited with engineering a brilliant merger strategy, enlisting the help of labor unions to enable a combination with American (AAMRQ). In fact, the entire airline industry was being viewed, finally, as an investment-worthy industry, largely as a result of Parker's efforts.

But the top of the world has never, for US Airways, been a good place to be. Always something has interfered with the smallish airline's climb to success. "Curse'" is not too strong a word to describe the syndrome it has always seemed to face.

In a stunning announcement Tuesday, the Justice Department said it would oppose the merger -- US Airways has been seeking a merger for 15 years -- just when the deal seemed all but done.

Over the past four years, the very same Justice Department has allowed mergers between Delta (DAL - Get Report) and Northwest, between United (UAL - Get Report) and Continental, between Southwest (LUV - Get Report) and AirTran. US Airways and American had every reason to expect similar treatment --- every reason except for US Airways' tortured history.

Oddly, another irrational event touched the carrier one month earlier. On July 18, Jerry Orr, longtime director of Charlotte Douglas International Airport, was fired despite being revered as either the best or one of the best U.S. airport directors. At least, that is what executives from JetBlue (JBLU), Southwest as well as US Airways have called him. As much as anyone else, Orr has enabled US Airways' buildup through efficient management of its largest hub.

Unfortunately, Orr become embroiled in a conflict between Charlotte, run by Democrats, and the state legislature, run by Republicans, over which should run the airport. Orr got sucked into North Carolina's ugly politics, despite decades of keeping a wall between politics and the airport he built, over three decades, into deregulation's biggest winner. Now, at 72, he awaits a court ruling that will determine whether he can return to his job.

A few years earlier, irrationality tarnished the 2005 merger between America West and US Airways. There, Parker and his management team combined two struggling airlines, one in bankruptcy and one close to it, into a big success story.
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