company history

AirTran Airways History

AirTran Airways is a culmination of several airlines and lots of hard work. In 1992, the predecessor airline, ValuJet Airlines was founded by 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 the spring of 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 late 1995, after barely two years of serving the public's air transportation needs, 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 much input into the design of the aircraft, and ValuJet was the youngest airline ever to serve as a launch customer for an aircraft type.

At the end of 1995, ValuJet was named as the top company in the famed 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 publicly traded airline stock was increasing in value on a seemingly weekly basis.

The original AirTran Airways, a Boeing 737 operator with service to/from Orlando, was founded by AirTran Corporation, the holding Company of Mesaba Airlines of Minneapolis, Minnesota, operating as a Northwest Airlink carrier with hubs in Minneapolis and Detroit. In 1994, AirTran Holdings purchased a start up 737 operator named Conquest Sun and renamed the airline AirTran Airways. Conquest Sun, similar to ValuJet, was an airline started by former Eastern Air Lines employees. The original AirTran Airways moved its headquarters to Orlando, Florida, and grew to 11 Boeing 737 aircraft serving 24 cities in the East and Midwest providing low-fare leisure travel to Orlando. In 1995, AirTran Airways was spun off by Mesaba and formed its own independent holding company named Airways Corporation.

On July 10, 1997, ValuJet, Inc., the holding company for ValuJet Airlines, Inc., announced plans to acquire Airways Corporation, Inc., the holding company for AirTran Airways, Inc. of Orlando, Florida. The deal was scheduled to close on November 17, 1997.

On September 24, 1997, ValuJet Airlines changed its name to AirTran Airlines. So, for a couple of months, the two holding companies, even though they had not yet merged, operated airlines with similar names – AirTran. ValuJet, Inc., operated AirTran Airlines with a hub in Atlanta and Airways, Inc., operated AirTran Airways with a hub in Orlando. Finally, on November 17, 1997, ValuJet, Inc., acquired Airways, Inc., and renamed the holding company, AirTran Holdings, Inc. In the summer of 1998, the two airlines merged onto the same FAA certificate and the AirTran Airways name survived. While the hub remained in Atlanta, the headquarters of the new entity was combined in Orlando, Florida, on January 28, 1998.

In January 1999, a new management team led by Joe Leonard, a veteran of Eastern Air Lines, and Bob Fornaro, of US Airways, took the reins at the airline. Leonard, Chairman and CEO, improved operating efficiencies while Fornaro, President and COO, built a sustainable route network which increased the presence of the Atlanta hub while adding focus cities in Baltimore/Washington, Philadelphia and Chicago. On August 15, 2001, Leonard and Fornaro joined twelve Crew Members in ringing the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange where the company's stock began trading under the ticker symbol AAI. The airline grew quickly under Leonard and Fornaro's leadership and has transformed itself into a strong competitor operating the youngest all Boeing fleet in the nation.

In November 2007, Bob Fornaro took over the reins of the airline as CEO, as well as President. Joe Leonard remained Chairman of the Board of Directors until June, 2008. Upon his retirement, Fornaro then became Chairman, President, and CEO.

Under Fornaro's leadership, AirTran Airways has grown into one of the largest and most profitable low-cost airlines in the industry with service to more than 60 cities coast-to-coast, as well as the Caribbean, and more than 700 flights per day and over 8,500 Crew Members. While continuing to grow its route map the airline has remained focused on adding products and services its customers want and became the first airline to outfit all of its planes with wi-fi service in the summer of 2009. The airline has won the top spot for low cost carriers in the coveted Airline Quality Rating (AQR) study for 2008 and 2009 and was the recipient of the prestigious Market Leadership Award from Air Transport World in 2010.

On September 27, 2010, AirTran Holdings, Inc. (NYSE:AAI), the parent company of AirTran Airways, announced a definitive agreement to be acquired by Southwest Airlines (NYSE:LUV).

“Joining Southwest Airlines will give us opportunities to grow, both professionally as individuals and as a group, in ways that simply would not be possible without this agreement. Together with Southwest, the world’s largest passenger airline, their financial resources, tremendous brand, legendary customer service, corporate culture and decades-long record of success, we will have the opportunity to go places neither company could have gone alone,” said Bob Fornaro, AirTran Chairman, President and CEO.

The transaction is expected to be complete in the first half of 2011, pending regulatory approvals.

AirTran Airways became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Southwest Airlines (NYSE: LUV) on May 2, 2011. The two airlines will operate separately until receipt of Single Operating Certificate as they are integrating the processes and employees of the two companies. In the near term, customers will continue to interact exclusively with their ticketed carrier, and AirTran aircraft will begin to be converted to the Southwest brand starting in 2012. On May 2, 2011, Bob Jordan, Southwest's Executive Vice President of Strategy and Planning, assumed the title of President of AirTran Airways and will oversee the company during integration. Former AirTran Holdings, Inc. Chairman, President and CEO Bob Fornaro became a consultant and still serves on the integration board.

"The successful closing of this transaction is a significant accomplishment and marks a great day in the history of Southwest Airlines. I want to thank the People from both Southwest and AirTran who helped us achieve this important milestone," said Gary Kelly, CEO, Chairman, and President of Southwest Airlines. "Our first order of business is to welcome our new friends from AirTran to the family in a truly Southwest Airlines way."

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