With the resolve of a carrier that has returned to health but the hesitancy of one that only emerged from bankruptcy protection last year, America West Airlines has instituted its first growth programme in four years. Its 29 per cent growth plan over two years is conservative compared to the explosive expansion of the 1980s which ended with the airline filing for Chapter 11 in 1991.

The main focus for the growth is America West's home base at Phoenix, where the carrier downsized by 11 per cent during its time in bankruptcy and lost out to Southwest Airlines. The Dallas-based carrier's presence has grown so that Phoenix is its largest city.

While America West has felt the competition, it has not all been bad. Southwest has kept the market vibrant, while at the same time leaving America West's longer-haul, full-service traffic base relatively unscathed. The Phoenix carrier is expected to report profits in the third quarter, its eleventh consecutive quarterly profit including second quarter net earnings of $20.9 million.

Over the next two years, the 29 per cent growth in ASMs and 17 per cent increase in departures will include new services to Miami, Cleveland and Detroit, as well as increased frequencies from Phoenix and the other primary hub in Las Vegas. The Colum- bus mini-hub, with 36 daily flights, will be unaffected.

The carrier aims to support the low-key expansion with productivity growth in an attempt to maintain one of the industry's lowest unit cost bases. And its fleet expansion programme is also conservative: next year's additions to the fleet, 10 Boeing 737s or A320s, will come on short-term operating leases.

Source: Airline Business