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American to explore its options; A possible sale is among them

American Airlines parent AMR Corp. will explore strategic options that include a possible sale under an agreement with the unsecured creditors committee in its bankruptcy case, people familiar with the matter said.

The process would begin this summer, before the September expiration of AMR's exclusive right to propose a reorganization plan, said the people, who weren't authorized to speak publicly. AMR said the accord calls for studying "potential consolidation scenarios" without committing to pursuing a deal.

The creditors panel pressed for such an agreement so Fort Worth, Texas-based AMR's review of its options would include studying a merger with US Airways Group, which is considering whether to mount a takeover bid, said one of the people.

Exploring options now marks a shift from Chief Executive Officer Tom Horton's stated goal of having AMR exit Chapter 11 before considering a merger. That approach has been under pressure after US Airways hired advisers, won backing for a tie-up from American's unions and began courting creditors.

The "joint exploration protocol agreement" between AMR and the nine-member creditors group will assess "strategic alternatives against which the company's stand-alone business plan will be vetted," Jack Butler, the panel's attorney, said in a statement.

AMR Chief Restructuring Officer Beverly Goulet said in a statement that the committee accord reinforced Horton's previous assurances that "what's best for our company, our people and our financial stakeholders will be determined by the facts in a disciplined manner and process. This includes whether American will choose to pursue any combination down the road."

US Airways stock rose 3.6 percent to $11.32 Friday, the highest closing price since January 2011. The shares of the Tempe, Ariz.-based carrier have more than doubled this year.

"A deal with US Airways is what makes the most sense for creditors, which is their fiduciary responsibility," Hunter Keay, a Wolfe Trahan & Co. analyst in New York, said in a telephone interview. "It's always struck me as odd that AMR was completely unwilling to listen to US Airways, because the offer is probably compelling, and US Airways is a motivated buyer."

Neither the creditors' statement nor American's announcement referred to US Airways. A spokeswoman for US Airways declined to comment.