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American Airlines pilots to join merger talks

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) -- The pilots' union at American Airlines says it has accepted an offer from the airline's bankruptcy creditors to join merger discussions with US Airways.

The Allied Pilots Association said its board voted 14-2 to accept the invitation from the committee of unsecured creditors. The pilots' union is one of the committee's nine members.

US Airways pilots' union is expected to join the talks as well.

Dennis Tajer, a spokesman for the American pilots' union, said the invitation was another step toward achieving a merger. Unions for American's pilots, flight attendants and ground workers announced their support for a merger in April. Union leaders signed conditional contracts that would take effect if a merger happens before AMR exits bankruptcy.

American sent a message to managers on Tuesday saying that it worked with the creditors' committee and "determined that union involvement in the discussions is an important step to appropriately evaluate the impact of a merger on labor costs, integration and seniority."

American declined further comment, citing a confidentiality agreement that it signed with US Airways. The pilots' union said it agreed to the same confidentiality terms.

American Airlines parent AMR Corp. filed for bankruptcy protection in November 2011 and is working on a plan to exit bankruptcy as an independent company. US Airways Group Inc. has presented a merger plan that would put its executives in charge of the combined company.

Separately Delta Air Lines announced Tuesday that it will buy 49 percent of the Virgin Atlantic airline and seek approval for the two carriers to cooperate on setting prices and schedules across the Atlantic. Analysts said that could strengthen Delta at the expense of AMR, which with partner British Airways dominates service between New York and London, a huge corporate-travel route.

Ray Neidl, an analyst with Maxim Group PLC, said the Delta deal and other recent developments have made an American-US Airways merger more likely.

Daniel McKenzie, an analyst for Buckingham Research, said the Delta deal was another sign that AMR's days as a stand-alone company are numbered.