AIRLINES : Investor Group Says It May Try to Buy USAir : Airline Strengthened Its 'Poison Pill' Takeover Defense Last Month

Times Staff Writer

A group led by Michael H. Steinhardt, an aggressive New York money manager, said Thursday that it owns more than 5% of USAir Group and may try to acquire the nation's fifth-largest airline.

USAir's shares rose $2.125 on news of the possible takeover attempt, closing at $49.75 on the New York Stock Exchange. A USAir spokesman would not comment on Steinhardt's action.

Steinhardt, 48, runs one of the most respected private investment firms on Wall Street and manages a $1.3-billion portfolio. He is known for his quick trading, often buying a stock in the morning and selling it for a profit hours later.

Never Moved Before

Steinhardt said in a statement filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission that his group had raised its stake in USAir to 5.89% from 4.44%. The group now holds 2.5 million shares worth about $129 million. The Steinhardt group acquired its latest 546,900 shares at prices ranging from about $45.73 to $47.60.

Steinhardt, through his Steinhardt Partners and its affiliates, has taken positions in other airline companies before but has never moved to acquire one.

Takeover rumors have swirled around the airline industry since Los Angeles investor Alfred A. Checchi's winning $4.05-billion bid last month for NWA Inc., the parent of Northwest Airlines. Checchi's $121-a-share tender offer expires today.

As a defense against an unwanted suitor, USAir last month strengthened its "poison pill" anti-takeover plan.

USAir itself has been active in the takeover game, buying both Piedmont Airlines and Pacific Southwest Airlines in 1987. Its operational merger with Piedmont becomes official on Aug. 5.

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