Westair Seeks Means To Fly Steadily Through Recession

August 12, 1991|By McClatchy News Service

There's red ink on the runway of the financially ailing airline industry, and Fresno-based WestAir Holding is trying hard to avoid shedding much more of its own.

While looking for ways to boost its bottom line, WestAir has undertaken measures designed to save millions of dollars: It has slashed its work force by at least 12 percent and imposed a hiring freeze; it is returning airplanes to the company it leases them from; it has restructured lease payments and loans and eliminated unprofitable routes.

WestAir has also hired the Baltimore investment banking firm of Alex. Brown & Sons to find ways to come up with capital.

The efforts over the last year were taken to help WestAir avoid becoming a casualty in what some analysts say has been the industry's worst time financially in the history of commercial aviation.

Hit hard by the combined effects of a national recession, the Persian Gulf war and fare wars, airlines are quitting business or landing in bankruptcy courts.

WestAir, which operates in California as United Express and is one of the nation's largest regional carriers, lost $12.3 million last year -- $4.5 million in the first quarter. It expects to lose up to $2.9 million in the second quarter, which ended June 30. Those quarterly results may be released today.

Analysts say the airline is taking the right cost-cutting steps to fly through turbulent times.

"The question is, how deep a hit have they taken, and can they recover?" asked Michael Boyd, president of Regional Airlines Management Systems Inc. of Denver, an airline consulting firm.

WestAir officials won't discuss investment scenarios, and Chairman Timothy Flynn declined to be interviewed, but outside analysts speculate that one likely way to raise money is through the sale of Atlantic Coast Airlines, a WestAir division.

Atlantic Coast is based at Dulles International Airport.

Mr. Boyd gives high marks to WestAir's management and said its chances of navigating the turbulence are greater than those of many other airlines because of its solid commuter relationship with United Air Lines.

About 60 percent of WestAir's passengers are bound for United flights.

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