CHARLOTTE, N.C. ( TheStreet) -- The American ( AAMRQ.PK) bankruptcy appears on track to wind up as perhaps the airline industry's most successful Chapter 11 reorganization, not only because it led to an expected merger but also because of a series of unique outcomes likely benefiting shareholders, creditors, retirees and employees.

Among those outcomes of the bankruptcy, which was filed Nov. 29, 2011, are these: Shareholders will likely receive an interest in the new company; retirees could retain access to continuing health care, although it will no longer be free; the ongoing negotiations will impact the amount available for equity holders; American froze its employee pension plans, rather than terminating them; and its plan of emergence has support from its unionized workers, which strongly backed the merger with US Airways ( LCC) that was announced on Feb. 14.

At the moment, American's "operations are humming, purring like a kitten," said a person who has been involved in the bankruptcy discussions and who asked not to be identified. "(The two carriers) have got the potential, if this is executed properly, to get meaningful synergies."

Of course, the question of whether the new American will overcome the profusion of problems that confront an airline merger remain to be answered. No doubt the ultimate judgment on the bankruptcy will be shaped by what happens in the future. But so far, in terms of managing through a bankruptcy, the American team headed by CEO Tom Horton is getting high marks.

"American did a lot of things it needed to do in terms of restructuring cost," the person said. "When everybody is distracted in bankruptcy, trying to run a company, a thousand things can go wrong. But these guys kept the momentum up. They kept their eyes on the ball in terms of running the thing."

The American team derived particular benefit from two factors. One was the huge aircraft orderthe carrier placed in July 2011 for up to 925 aircraft. It meant the future would inevitably bring the fleet flexibility America has lacked as well as cost reductions associated with reduced fuel and maintenance costs.

The order was critical for the American team, the person said. "Before they filed, they got everybody lined up. And then they got the airframe guys and the engine guys to stand behind that and make it work, (creating) momentum so they could emerge very competitive."

The team also benefited from the positive operating environment for airlines, which throughout the bankruptcy have generally been able to profit even in spite of rising oil prices, largely as a result of diminished capacity and a new pricing model heavily reliant on ancillary revenue from fees. In this sense, it helped American to be the last to restructure.

Beyond that, American performed better than other carriers that went through bankruptcy, at least in terms of passenger revenue per available seat mile gains relative to the rest of the industry. Among the four other legacy carriers that have also filed since 2004, only Northwest produced PRASM that exceeded industry PRASM in the first six months after filing, American has said. Some experts explain the outsized gains by saying that American had more ground to make up than its competitors did.

In the court process, at least one major issue remains unresolved: What happens to retiree health claims? Currently, many retirees pay nothing for health care, a result of having pre-paid while working. Paul Mazzara, a former TWA and American mechanic who is chairman of the American Airlines Retirees Committee, worries that future premiums for health care might be around $1,000 a month. "Most retirees don't make $1,000 a month," he said.

In ongoing talks, attorneys for the airline and the retirees are negotiating the outcome of the retiree health care claim. The airline intends for retirees to be placed in an insurance pool with future retirees, where they would benefit from a group discount, according to a person familiar with the negotiations. The retirees would likely pay a monthly premium in the hundreds of dollars; the coverage would not be subsidized by the airline. So far, attorneys for the retirees have rejected this resolution.

Besides becoming part of the insurance pool, retirees may receive some amount of value in recognition of their claim, which is valued at around $1.2 billion, the person said. The resolution is being negotiated: retirees could receive a future subsidy to their premiums or they could be awarded value in the near term, which would diminish the pool of funds available to other creditors.

Along with the price of US Airways shares, the retiree health care claim is "the wild card that most affects the equity recovery," said CRT Capital Group analyst Kevin Starke, who was among the first to see that AMR Shares might have value. He described that likelihood in a Dec. 7 report, when shares traded at 51 cents. They closed Friday at $2.52.

AMR has three choices, Starke said. It can allow retirees to maintain their health care benefits, which would represent a $1.2 billion liability; it could dismiss retiree health care claims, as some other carriers have done; or it could place the retirees in a pool and also award stock to satisfy the claim.

"It's hard to get compensation up to the full amount of the claim, but my model shows the retirees getting something," Starke said. "The company can give away some stock and clean up the balance sheet."

While American's bankruptcy filing may be the most successful, it is not the only success. In fact, with the exception of Continental, which filed previously, every surviving legacy carrier filed in the years following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and every case benefited both the carrier and the industry. At the least, the filings enabled cost reductions that led to viable mergers. In what may be the most successful outcome so far, Delta's ( DAL - Get Report) 2005 filing led not only to cost reductions but also enabled the carrier's transformation into a leading global carrier from a perpetual No. 3 among the Big Three U.S. carriers.

The Delta story was enhanced by two events that followed its emergence. First, retiring CEO Jerry Grinstein asked that charitable funds, benefiting Delta employees and their children, be set up with whatever additional compensation he might receive. Later, Delta merged with Northwest to create what is now widely viewed as the leading U.S. airline.

The United ( UAL - Get Report) bankruptcy was perhaps the least successful. It took the longest -- three years and 51 days -- and concluded in 2006 without the merger that CEO Glenn Tilton had been seeking. Nevertheless, Tilton received more compensation than any peer -- $39.7 million in 2006 and another $16.8 million in 2010. Moreover, the 2010 merger with Continental has not gone smoothly, although operational performance has improved in recent months.

US Airways filed twice. A 2002 bankruptcy took just eight months, but the cuts were not steep enough. A 2004 bankruptcy concluded in a merger that enabled the America West management team to take over and to create a successful airline from two unsuccessful ones. Now, the same team will take over management of American and will have the opportunity for fine tuning before its new partner emerges from bankruptcy. They have done this before.

"As it is with all bankruptcies, labor and other important parties made tremendous personal and professional sacrifices," said Dennis Tajer, a spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association, which represents American pilots. "But the difference in this bankruptcy is that merger of American and US Airways led to the creation of unprecedented value for all stakeholders."

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Ted Reed