AirTran Airways Confirms Plans To Shut Down Operations At Four Airports


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AirTran Airways Confirms Plans To Shut Down Operations At Four Airports

By Daniel Baxter

August 7, 2011 - AirTran Airways, a wholly owned subsidiary of Southwest Airlines, Co. (NYSE: LUV), told its Employees that operations will cease early next year at the following four airports: Asheville (N.C.) Regional (AVL), Atlantic City International (ACY), Quad City (Moline, Ill.) International (MIL), and Newport News Williamsburg (Va.) International (PHF).

AirTran Airways can no longer support service to these particular markets in light of the realities of the challenging economic environment and sustained high fuel prices. 

The Company?s priority is to take excellent care of its dedicated Employees, Partners, and Customers in these markets. AirTran Employees at these locations have performed superbly and will have the opportunity to move elsewhere within the airline, after the operations cease early next year.

AirTran Airways will continue to operate at Asheville, Atlantic City, and Quad City airports through January 6, 2012, and at Newport News Williamsburg through March 9, 2012. Ticketed passengers, passengers holding reservations, or passengers desiring to make reservations for flights to or from these airports have no need to alter their travel plans prior to these closing dates. The airline will begin directly contacting the limited number of passengers who are currently holding reservations beyond the closing dates, in order to assist them in reaccommodating their air travel needs. 

AirTran Airways is a low-cost airline. A subsidiary of the Dallas, Texas-based Southwest Airlines, AirTran operates over 1,000 daily flights, primarily in the eastern and midwestern United States. AirTran's principal hubs are Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, where it operates over 270 daily departures, and General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  

It maintains focus city operations at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport and Orlando International Airport. AirTran's fleet consists of Boeing 717 aircraft, of which it is the largest operator, and Boeing 737-700 aircraft. On May 2, 2011, Southwest Airlines successfully acquired AirTran Airways for US$1.4 billion. 

AirTran Airways traces its roots to the 1992 founding of ValuJet Airlines in Georgia, United States. The founders were airline industry veterans, including an executive group from the former Southern Airways and pilots, mechanics and flight attendants from the defunct Eastern Air Lines.


Created to fill the void at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport after Eastern Air Lines' demise, ValuJet Airlines started with two former Delta Air Lines DC-9 aircraft, and the first commercial flight occurred between Atlanta and Tampa on October 26, 1993. The airline was the first to launch ticketless travel in 1993.

In early 1994, barely eight months after launching service between Atlanta and three Florida cities, the airline went public by listing its stock on the NASDAQ and trading under the ticker symbol VJET. 

In August 1995, the Department of Defense (DoD) rejected ValuJet's bid to fly military personnel citing serious deficiencies in ValuJet's quality assurance procedures and an accident rate 14 times higher than the United States' big airlines.

In late 1995, the airline placed an order with the then McDonnell Douglas Corporation to be the launch customer for the MD-95 aircraft (now known as the Boeing 717). Serving as the launch customer meant the airline would have significant input into the design of the aircraft. 

At the end of 1995, ValuJet was named as the top company in the Georgia 100 as published by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and the airline posted high margins with a $67 million net profit on revenues of $367 million. 

The Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) Atlanta field office sent a memo on February 14, 1996, to Washington, D.C., stating that "consideration should be given to the immediate FAR-121 rectification of this airline"--in other words, the FAA wanted ValuJet grounded. ValuJet planes made 15 emergency landings in 1994, 57 in 1995, and 57 from January through May 1996. 

In February the FAA ordered ValuJet to seek approval before adding any new aircraft or cities to its network, something the industry had not seen since deregulation in 1979. This attempt at removing ValuJet's certification was "lost in the maze at FAA" according to NTSB Chairman Jim Hall

By this time, ValuJet's accident rate was fourteen times that of legacy carriers. On May 11, 1996, ValuJet suffered its highest-profile incident when its Flight 592, a DC-9 jetliner flying from Miami to Atlanta, plunged into the Florida Everglades, killing all 110 aboard. After the Flight 592 crash, many of ValuJet's other cost-cutting practices came under scrutiny. It had allowed one plane to fly 140 times despite a leaky hydraulic system, and allowed another plane to fly 31 times with a malfunctioning weather radar. 

The resulting investigation revealed numerous systemic flaws, and on June 17, 1996, ValuJet was grounded by the FAA. On September 26, 1996, ValuJet resumed flying with 15 jets, down from 52 before the crash, after complying with all U.S. Department of Transportation and FAA requirements. On November 4, 1996, ValuJet announced that Joseph Corr, former CEO of Continental Airlines, would become CEO and President of the airline at a time when the airline was in serious trouble. It had lost $55 million since the crash of Flight 592.

After the large amount of negative publicity surrounding the Flight 592 incident, ValuJet suffered serious financial problems. On July 11, 1997, ValuJet announced it would merge with the much smaller Airways Corporation, parent of AirTran Airways.

The merged company would retain the AirTran name, although ValuJet was the senior partner and nominal survivor of the merger. In November 1997, the company announced it would move its headquarters from Atlanta to Orlando. On November 17, 1997, AirWays Corp. and ValuJet completed their merger, and the tarnished ValuJet name passed into aviation history.

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