The biggest aviation story of the month so far has been the merger of American Airlines and US Airways. It was made official Dec. 9 after American emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection following its reorganization. The merger has been an on-again, off-again affair for many months, and now with its approval will create the world's largest airline.

The new carrier will retain the name American Airlines and see aircraft painted into the new colors, which first appeared this year. The CEO of the combined carrier, however, will be Doug Parker from US Airways, who was previously in charge of America West Airlines until their merger with US Airways in 2005.

The merger will likely take 18 to 24 months to complete, with both carriers continuing on with business as usual in the meantime. Starting early next year, US Airways will leave the Star Alliance and join Oneworld alongside American. Passengers should also expect reciprocity on lounge access and their frequent flier accounts until they are merged.

So what does it mean for airports? The merged airline claims "nine U.S. hub airports" as one of the key benefits of the merger. Notably, Dallas/Fort Worth will remain the airline's headquarters, and Philadelphia (one of the key bases for US Airways) will also stay on as a hub, which is great news for the 6,000 or so staff employed by the airline there.

Other hubs are Charlotte/Douglas, Chicago O'Hare, Los Angeles International, Miami International, New York (JFK and LaGuardia), Phoenix and Washington Reagan National. In total, 330 worldwide destinations in 54 countries will be served more than 6,700 daily flights by the time the merger is completed.

American Airlines

Areas still to be resolved that will likely affect airports across the country most include the merged carriers' combined route network, its maintenance bases, consolidation of staff and what sort of regional carrier(s) will emerge.

Both American and US Airways have been competing on a number of routes, and in some cases fly from alternative airports at the same city. Details such as from which terminals the airlines fly, and which gates are used, are also just a part of the wrangling to be done.

After the details have been settled, it is likely that many airports will see reduced schedules where the carriers were previously competing, and in some cases possibly the loss of service.

The latter is likely to be tied up with how American Eagle and the various US Airways Express carriers emerge. Parker has already commented that Eagle will not be divested, and the US Airways Express brand is likely to be retired in favor of its aircraft-wearing American Eagle uniform. However, the routes that remain will be a key focus for the merger.

Finally, with maintenance bases in Tulsa, Okla., and Pittsburgh airports respectively, American and US Airways will have the unwelcome task of not only merging their different fleets and aircraft configurations, but also where maintenance will take place and which staff will remain to carry out the works.

"It’s two complex organizations that need to be melded into one over time," Parker said. "That’s the biggest challenge by far."