CHICAGO – United Airlines (search) Friday said it has agreed with its creditors' committee to a 30-day extension, subject to court approval, of the period during which it can exclusively file a bankruptcy reorganization plan.
The agreed extension is shorter than a recent request for a four-month extension by the No. 2 U.S. airline, a unit of UAL Corp.
At a Friday court hearing, United's bankruptcy attorney James Sprayregen said United agreed not to seek final approval of any business plan during those 30 days. The creditors' committee agreed not to press any alternative restructuring strategies of its own during the period.
United said its chief executive, Glenn Tilton (search), has pledged to include creditors in the company's reorganization.
Much of the morning's hearing focused on United's decision not to make more than $500 million in pension payments while in bankruptcy.
In court papers this week, United said it likely will have to cancel and replace all of its pension plans, angering unions which had feared the airline would try to scrap the plans.
It was the company's most explicit statement yet about the future of its pension plans, although United said no final decision on the plans had been made.
Judge Eugene Wedoff asked Sprayregen if the move to halt payments implied what he called a "de facto" decision by the airline to terminate the plans.
Sprayregen said that was not the case, and that United believed it might be possible to make some sort of pension arrangement in cooperation with all of the parties involved. He said the airline was trying not to make what he called a "precipitous decision" on a highly charged issue.
Skyrocketing oil prices have caused air carriers to reexamine their business models, given jet fuel is the industry's second highest operating expense after labor. UAL said in court that the spike in fuel prices will add more than $1 billion to its 2004 expenses.
Sprayregen also said the proposed changes to the carrier's bankruptcy financing, which would provide it with an additional $500 million to keep operations going during restructuring, would not prohibit the carrier from making pension payments. In court papers, the airline said the decision to halt payments was based instead on prudent business judgment.
Wedoff brought up the issue several times and said he considered United's latest statement "a correction" of statements made earlier.
At a July court hearing, United suggested its new financing package would prohibit the company from making any new pension payments. That statement sparked panic among unions and prompted a number of lawsuits from unions and U.S. pension insurers opposing the decision to stop payments.
Among the lawsuits were two by the International Association of Machinists (search) against UAL corporate officers, alleging they had breached their fiduciary duties in halting the payments.
US Airways Group Inc. (UAIR) scrapped its pilot pension plan and replaced it with a cheaper one before emerging from bankruptcy last year, and Delta Air Lines Inc. (DAL) has proposed changes to its pilot pension plan as part of its attempt to cut costs and avoid a Chapter 11 filing.