AirTran Airlines has turned in its first quarterly profit since the Florida crash two years ago which forced the carrier, then called ValuJet, to suspend services for several months.

The new group, which emerged last year from the merger of AirTran Airways and ValuJet, is forecasting a "solidly profitable" year.

"AirTran is now profitable and we are optimistic about the future," says president Joseph Corr, pointing to "encouraging" growth at the airline's booming Atlanta hub.

The optimism comes on the back of a turnaround in the second quarter to the end of June, with net profits of $8.6 million against a loss of $9.2 million a year ago.

Signs of recovery had shown through in the first quarter as losses more than halved to $8 million. The result compares with a full-year loss of $97 million in 1997 and $42 million the year before. Cash reserves total $66 million.

The recovery has been helped by a steady improvement in yields and load factors, which reached 63% in the second quarter despite a doubling in seat capacity.

AirTran continues to rebuild its route network, which now covers 37 US cities, with a fleet of 51 McDonnell Douglas DC-9s and Boeing 737s, putting the airline back to its position before the Florida crash.

AirTran still holds 50 launch orders and 50 options for the Boeing 717-200 in a deal valued at $1 billion.

Source: Flight International