American Airlines, the world’s largest airline and the second-largest carrier at O’Hare International Airport, received its single operating certificate Wednesday from the FAA, an important behind-the-scenes milestone in its integration with US Airways.
Now comes a potentially more difficult task: Aligning computer reservation systems into one without disrupting flights or vexing consumers. That changeover is slated to happen late this year.
Combining to a single website and a single reservation system has been a harrowing project that proved rocky in some other airline mergers.
That included Chicago-based United Airlines in its 2012 reservation-system combination with Continental Airlines. Compounded by poor employee training, the switchover resulted in months of widespread flight delays and cancellations, even leading to defections of business customers, hurting the airline’s profits. US Airways’ merger with America West also had problems.
However, Delta’s combination with Northwest Airlines is generally regarded as a relatively smooth one.
American officials have said they are well aware of the challenges of combining systems, and plan to be more deliberate in migrating the smaller US Airways system to American’s.
The carrier also is not yet close to mixing American and US Airways flight crews and aircraft, which mostly amounts to working out union labor issues.
But as of Wednesday, the Federal Aviation Administration will officially recognize the two airlines as one.
While receiving the single operating certificate means no changes for customers, it has come after considerable effort by American. The airline has spent 18 months and devoted 700 employees to aligning policies and procedures and training employees, the company said.
“Achieving a single operating certificate is an important step toward becoming a fully integrated airline and the effort to reach today’s milestone touched nearly every area of our company,” said Robert Isom, American’s chief operating officer.
Though American and US Airways merged as corporations in December 2013 and have merged some functions — such as combining boarding gates at O’Hare and frequent-flier programs worldwide, they couldn’t combine flight operations until the FAA gave the go-ahead. The carriers received that approval in the form of a paper certificate Wednesday.