USAir Corp. said yesterday that it is suspending its search for a successor to Chairman Seth E. Schofield, pending the outcome of its talks with other airlines regarding a possible merger.
The Arlington, Va.-based carrier, which handles more than half the daily traffic at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, said Monday that it had held merger discussions with both United and American Airlines, the nation's largest and second-largest carriers.
The board's decision to temporarily suspend the CEO search appears to reflect its feelings that merger talks might indeed result in a deal.
But Richard M. Weintraub, a company spokesman, said yesterday that the decision merely reflects the board's desire to have "stability and continuity during this phase."
"I think the board just said, 'Let's see the direction that talks are going to take,' " Mr. Weintraub said.
A takeover of USAir would give United or American access to USAir's valuable mid-Atlantic and Northeast routes. But industry analysts have cautioned that any purchase of USAir would face significant antitrust and financial hurdles.
Burdened by the highest costs in the industry and intense competition from discount carriers, USAir has lost $3 billion in six years. Although it has said it expects to be profitable this year, the airline's future is clouded by its failure so far to win badly needed concessions from its labor unions.
After 16 months of unsuccessful talks with the unions, USAir this summer abandoned its efforts to win some $2.5 billion in labor concessions over the next five years.
Mr. Schofield's decision to retire, announced Sept. 6, was believed to be prompted by his own frustration -- and that of the board of directors -- with his failure to strike a deal with the unions.
Mr. Schofield said then that he would remain only until a successor was named.
In a statement yesterday, Mattias J. DeVito, chairman of the USAir board of directors' search committee and chairman of the Rouse Co., said Mr. Schofield now has agreed to the board's request to remain in his position "until either those discussions have been concluded or, depending on the results of the discussions, his successor has been elected and is in place."