The parent of American Airlines filed for bankruptcy protection Tuesday and pledged to emerge as a stronger carrier in a move that could prompt another bout of industry consolidation and present a stern test for regulators.

AMR Corp. filed for protection in New York in a surprise move given it has more than $4 billion in cash, and appointed Thomas Horton as chairman and chief executive afterGerard Arpey opted to retire and join an investment group.

It “was really just the best time” for the third-largest U.S. carrier by passenger traffic to seek a court restructuring, Mr. Horton said in an interview. “Our board has been thinking about the best path forward for a long time.”

AMR’s board met Monday in New York and unanimously signed off on the plan during a conference call late in the day, Mr. Horton said.

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