American Airlines and its pilots passed up a chance Wednesday to have their contract dispute settled by an arbitrator, putting the nation's No. 2 carrier 30 days away from a possible strike.
If no settlement is reached during the so-called cooling-off period, the pilots would be allowed to strike Feb. 15 and American would be free to impose the contract it wants.
American's parent company, AMR Corp., had initially agreed to binding arbitration, but added the caveat that pilots also make a decision by Wednesday. As the day wore on, the Allied Pilots Assn. remained quiet and the company played its hand.
"We've got notification from American Airlines that they're withdrawing their offer to arbitrate," said Harry Bickford of the National Mediation Board.
APA spokesman Rich Rubin said a negotiating meeting was canceled after the airline refused to consider the pilots' counteroffer.
The pilots' union has vowed to strike if the company does not come up with a better contract offer than the four-year deal that was rejected last week by its membership.
The contract would have given a 3% increase this year and a 2% raise in 1999. Meanwhile, AMR released its latest financial report, saying earnings for the fourth quarter exceeded analysts' expectations.
For the quarter ended Dec. 31, net earnings were $284 million, or $3.08 a share, due partially to an offering of stock in the Sabre Group, the company's computer reservation system.
Still, AMR's stock finished unchanged at $83.50 on the New York Stock Exchange.