The federal agency that safeguards pension is seeking to compel AMR Corp. to provide testimony and documents connected to the four major American Airlines Inc. employee pension plans.

Attorneys for the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. filed a motion in a New York federal bankruptcy court Thursday asked U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Sean Lane to order AMR, American and other affiliates to produce documents and to issue subpoenas requiring company officials to testify.

“It is evident that the treatment of AMR’s pension plans requires consideration of extensive financial and actuarial information,” the PGBC said in its filing. “PBGC has sought this information directly from AMR, but AMR has refused to provide it, forcing PBGC to seek relief from the Bankruptcy Court.”

Earlier Thursday, PBGC director Josh Gotbaum called on AMR and American not to terminate or freeze the four pension plans, which cover pilots, flight attendants, Transport Worker Union members and other non-union employees.

“Some have suggested that American must duck its pension commitments and kill its pension plans in order to survive,” Gotbaum said in a statement. “We think that commitments to 130,000 workers and retirees shouldn’t be disposable, that American should have to prove in court that this drastic step is necessary.”

In a reply, American, which said it has contribuated nearly $3 billion to its defined-benefit pension plans over the past decade, did not indicate whether it would end its pension plans.

“A company’s Chapter 11 reorganization does not necessarily mean that a company’s pension plan will be taken over or terminated, although that is a possible outcome,” American said.

“Once in Chapter 11, a variety of factors, including creditors’ interests, heavily influence a company’s financial decisions,” it added.

The company said its pensioi plans “are very expensive — the company spends more on them than our competitors spend on their retirement plans.. Given American’s plans to reduce its costs to a more reasonable level in line with industry norms, these costs and many other factors are considerations when deciding whether to continue the pension plans.”

Gotbaum disputed American’s claim that it pays more for pension, saying that Delta Air Lines Inc. “pays an average of $13,210 per employee in pension costs – almost two thirds more than American’s pre-bankruptcy cost of $8,102.” He cited numbers from each carrier’s 2010 financial disclosures.

In its filing with the bankruptcy court, the PBGC said terminating any of the four AMR plans “would add significantly to PBGC’s deficit.” The end of all four would result in a PBGC claim of about $10 billion, with a $1 billion loss to plan participants, the agency said.

The Association of Professional Flight Attendants, which represents American’s flight attendants, also urged American to retain the pensions, saying the flight attendant pensions are a relatively small part of American’s pension costs.

“For decades we have dutifully done our part to support this pension plan by paying into it with our hard earned wages, and we expect it to be there for us when we retire,” APFA president Laura Glading said. “Anything short of this is a betrayal.”

On another matter, National Mediation Board officials met Wednesday with TWU and American Eagle officials to discuss two contracts that were in federal mediation. On Thursday, they met with American officials and representatives of the APFA, TWU and Allied Pilots Association to discuss the status of their negotiations.

In a press release, the TWU said NMB member Harry Hoglander and Larry Gibbons, NMB director of mediation services, said the NMB “intends to be engaged and active throughout the process,” and that the bankruptcy filing didn’t affect the NMB’s “function or status of cases.”

An American spokeswoman said no other meetings are currently planned.

In a letter to employees Thursday, AMR and American chairman and chief executive officer Tom Horton said that the company “we will put forward proposals for next-generation labor contracts for unionized groups alongside changes for all other work groups including management.

“While difficult, all of these changes will be grounded in our overall objective to become efficient and fully competitive in all aspects of our business,” Horton wrote. “Just as we are carefully examining our fleet and network plans, we are looking at how we do our jobs, how we staff the airline, and what compensation, benefit and retirement packages will be going forward.”

Keep reading for the entire Horton letter.

Dear American Team:

It has been several weeks since we set out on a new path forward. And that path is to complete a successful restructuring and return American to a position of industry leadership, profitability and growth.

Now, maybe more than ever, the most important thing we can all do is take great care of our customers to keep them coming back. And on that score, I want to thank all of you for doing an outstanding job over the past weeks. During December and the first part of January, our on-time arrivals (DOT A+14) was 82.4%, about a point better than last year, and our baggage handling numbers improved by 24%. And I’ve heard from lots of customers about what a fine job our people are doing in recent weeks, both on the ground and in flight. This is a great way to start our path back to the top.

I have continued to spend a lot of time out and about meeting with folks all around the company and doing a lot of listening. Most everyone I talk to seems to understand that we have to make some tough changes in restructuring to achieve the bright and secure future we expect for American on the other side. But the questions most asked are: What happens next? And when will we know what those changes are?

We are in the early days of this process and don’t yet have all the answers. We are well into the first step process, which is negotiating with creditors and lessors to reduce our debt burden and optimize our fleet. This will result in some reduction in the size of our fleet as we ground some older, less efficient planes. At the same time we are working on our business plan to optimize the network with this new fleet plan. The objective is to create a plan which best serves our customers and does so producing the greatest revenue at the most efficient cost and capital structure. We will do this in a way that preserves our strategic strengths so that we can begin to grow with our big aircraft order when our restructuring is complete.

Also, as a key part of the business plan, we will put forward proposals for next-generation labor contracts for unionized groups alongside changes for all other work groups including management. While difficult, all of these changes will be grounded in our overall objective to become efficient and fully competitive in all aspects of our business. Just as we are carefully examining our fleet and network plans, we are looking at how we do our jobs, how we staff the airline, and what compensation, benefit and retirement packages will be going forward.

Of course in all of this, we will have input from other interested parties. The creditors committee and their advisors will be actively involved. We expect that the business plan and labor proposals will be coming together within the next few weeks. Just as soon as they are available we will update you on all of this.

Again, thank you for your great work over the holidays and the days since. I appreciate all you do as we move American through this difficult process back to its rightful place of industry leadership.

Sincerely,

Tom

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