United Airlines Chief Executive Officer Glenn Tilton said he is optimistic his company's merger with Continental Airlines Inc. will win U.S. approval this year, "well within the timetable" set by the companies.
Tilton said he has discussed the proposed merger with the staff at the Justice Department, and has "listened" to their questions, concerns and interests about the combination.
"My view remains very optimistic," Tilton told reporters after taking part in a government panel today in Washington. "We can address the concerns that they have expressed well within the timetable" and complete the transaction as planned in the fourth quarter.
Tilton and Continental Chief Executive Officer Jeff Smisek in two days are to appear for the first time before two congressional panels reviewing airline mergers. The executives will testify before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee's antitrust panel about their merger plan.
United parent UAL Corp. and Continental announced plans May 3 to merge in a stock swap valued at more than $3 billion that will create the world's biggest airline.
United, based in Chicago, and Houston-based Continental are the third- and fourth-largest U.S. airlines by passenger traffic. Tilton would be nonexecutive chairman of the carrier, to be called United, and Smisek would retain his chief executive title. The airline will adopt Continental's logo.
The U.S. antitrust review by the Justice Department will find "little overlap between the two companies," Tilton said. "There is no market that I believe won't lend itself to a very expedient and reasonable solution."
Tilton said regulators will conduct a "full and robust review" and didn't comment on whether the carriers would need to offer concessions to win approval. "We are looking forward to having a full and robust discussion on all of those threshold considerations," he said.
The United-Continental merger, if approved, probably is the last major combination after regulators cleared Delta Air Lines Inc.'s purchase of Northwest Airlines Inc. last year, he said.
Tilton was at the Transportation Department's headquarters in Washington today to participate as a member on an advisory commission on the future of aviation.