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American Airlines seeks Delta execs’ testimony in U.S. trial over JetBlue deal

(Reuters) - Lawyers for American Airlines Group Inc on Tuesday asked a Boston federal judge to require the president of rival Delta Air Lines Inc and another executive to testify at trial as American prepares to challenge the U.S. Justice Department's antitrust claims.

The DOJ and six states last year sued American Airlines to stop a partnership with JetBlue Airways Corp that the government said would lead to reduced competition in the Northeast airline market. American is the largest airline in the world.

Delta's not a party in the lawsuit, but American Airlines' attorneys at Latham & Watkins contend executives there should be compelled to address competition.

In Tuesday's filing, Latham attorneys said Fort Worth-based American Airlines' arrangement with JetBlue was "designed to compete more effectively with Delta" and that "Delta has responded accordingly."

American Airlines said Delta president Glen Hauenstein, who is the second-highest-ranking executive at the Atlanta-headquartered company, and Joseph Esposito, senior vice president of network planning, should be required to appear as trial witnesses.

A bench trial is set to start on Sept. 27 before U.S. District Judge Leo Sorokin.

A Delta spokesperson said the company had no immediate comment. Lawyers for Hauenstein on Wednesday did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

Daniel Wall of Latham & Watkins, a lead attorney for American Airlines, did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment. An airline spokesperson declined to comment.

The Justice Department had no immediate comment.

The plaintiffs' case against American Airlines alleged its "Northeast Alliance" with JetBlue was "unprecedented and anticompetitive." Instead of competing for domestic flights between New York and Boston, the plaintiffs' have alleged, the companies unlawfully coordinated on routes and schedules.

American Airlines and JetBlue have denied wrongdoing and argued there is no evidence of anticompetitive fare increases. Attorneys for the companies argue the partnership, in effect now for more than a year, has offered expanded services to travelers.

In May, lawyers for American Airlines lost a bid seeking the pre-trial deposition of Hauenstein, Delta's president since May 2016.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Christopher Bly in Georgia concluded American Airlines had not shown Hauenstein had "unique knowledge" that could not be obtained elsewhere.

"It is one thing to require a high-level executive to sit for a deposition in a matter involving that executive's company," Bly wrote. "It is another altogether to do so when the executive's company is a third party to the litigation."

The case is United States v. American Airlines Group Inc, U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, No. 1:21-cv-11558-LTS.

For plaintiffs: William Jones II of the Justice Department; representatives from plaintiff states including California and Pennsylvania

For American Airlines: Daniel Wall of Latham & Watkins

For JetBlue: Richard Schwed of Shearman & Sterling

This article originally appeared on Reuters

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