ValuJet, which was grounded by the US Federal Aviation Administration in mid-June, is attempting an August comeback with a significantly smaller fleet and in the face of a highly circumspect public.

ValuJet filed a plan of operational and management reorganisation to the FAA in mid-July, hoping to convince the agency of its viability to fly safely following an extensive audit that documented close to 30 instances of unsafe operational practices at the carrier, before and after the crash of Flight 592 in May.

At the outset, the carrier will operate no more than 15 aircraft, down from a fleet of more than 50. The airline will also change its salary structure away from performance-based rewards that critics say encouraged unsafe flying. ValuJet is to create an engineering department, instead of using third party suppliers.

Whether these changes improve the carrier's image in the public's estimation is questionable. The airline has shouldered an unprecedented amount of negative publicity, much of it focusing on the carrier's low-cost image. ValuJet's president Lewis Jordan says that the airline will not change its concept, which makes one industry analyst wonder 'what will people think when ValuJet starts up and begins by offering $49 fares?'

A smaller ValuJet will pose less of a threat to those airlines that suffered from its pricing policy. 'A downsized ValuJet will represent a considerably less competitive entity in the industry overall, but vis-a-vis Delta in particular,' says Bankers Trust analyst Vivian Lee. USAir has also benefited from ValuJet's grounding, reporting a record 72 per cent system load factor in June.

Mead Jennings

Source: Airline Business