Adding to its troubles, USAir had disappointing November

THE BALTIMORE SUN

For the busy travel month of November, USAir posted some disappointing results.

The Arlington, Va.-based airline reported yesterday that the number of miles flown by paying passengers on USAir rose only 0.7 percent over the previous November, while the percentage of seats filled on the carrier's flights dropped from 61.7 percent to 60.2 percent.

The November figures were down sharply from the airline's overall trend for the first 11 months of the year, when revenue passenger miles ran 7.9 percent higher than the same period last year and the load factor averaged 62.5 percent.

But USAir, the largest carrier at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, warned against comparing last month's figures to November 1993, when the airline experienced a surge in passengers because of the American Airlines' flight attendants strike.

And the airline said its load factor fell largely because it flew planes with more seats, resulting in a 3.2 percent increase in capacity.

Nevertheless, the November results are clearly disappointing for the troubled airline, which has lost more than $2.5 billion since 1989.

"It's disappointing particularly when you think about what normally happens in November, with Thanksgiving," said Alex Hart, airline analyst for Ferris, Baker Watts Inc. in Baltimore.

The latest statistics, he said, reflect intense competition from other airlines offering low fares and the lingering effects of USAir's Sept. 8 crash outside Pittsburgh, the airline's second in two months.

The crash took a heavy toll on the airline's third-quarter earnings, with airline officials attributing as much as $40 million of the $180.1 million losses to the Pittsburgh disaster. So far, this year, the airline has lost more than $350 million.

USAir is trying to rebound financially by seeking major concessions from its labor unions. Talks between the pilots union and USAir -- which broke off for several weeks -- continued in Washington last week with former Virginia Gov. Gerald L. Baliles acting as a facilitator.

Elsewhere in the airline industry this week, several carriers have reported increases in their revenue passenger miles, a key industry measure, for November.

United, for instance, was up 7 percent, while Southwest rose 8.7 percent.

Nevertheless, news in the industry was generally bleak. While low fares continued to boost the growth in passengers, they are taking a toll on earnings.

Yesterday, airline companies' stocks plunged for the second day, and the industry registered the biggest loss of the 88 industry groups in the Standard and Poor's 500. The index ended down 7.4 percent yesterday, at its lowest level since 1988.

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