US Airways Group Inc. CEO Doug Parker told shareholders Thursday that a merger with his airline is the only way American Airlines can reclaim leadership of the industry.

A combined US Airways-American could “compete with anybody,” Parker said. American has lost market share to Delta and United over the past five years, a trend that Parker says won’t be fixed through bankruptcy reorganization. The merged airline would be the market leader across two-thirds of the country, he said at the Tempe-based US Airways Group, Inc.’s annual shareholder meeting.

American’s parent, AMR Corp. filed for bankruptcy protection on Nov. 29. Its CEO, Tom Horton, has repeatedly said he wants his airline to emerge from bankruptcy before considering a merger, although AMR and its creditors committee have agreed to explore potential consolidation.

Parker hasn’t been that patient. He struck a deal with American’s three main unions to support a merger. Leaders from all those labor groups were present at Thursday’s meeting. The groups represent nearly 55,000 of American’s 73,000 employees.

“We appreciate their support and presence here today,” Parker said. After the meeting, they posed for a group photo.

Parker said merger talks would begin after the bankruptcy judge rules about the state of the union’s contracts. A decision is expected June 22, although it has been pushed back once already.

“There is a process in place. It’s got its own rhythm. We respect that,” Parker told The Associated Press.

American is currently the country’s third largest carrier; US Airways is number five.

Shares of US Airways were trading up nearly 2 percent at $12.20 mid-day Thursday. So far this year, US Airways’ share price has climbed 140 percent, something Parker attributed at the shareholder meeting to Wall Street’s support of the proposed merger.

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