Can Air Tran Keep Climbing?

ValuJet's successor is thriving--for now

When Joseph B. Leonard slipped into the cockpit of AirTran Holdings Inc. (AAI) in January, 1999, he could have been excused for feeling a sense of deja vu: Leonard, who worked at Eastern Airlines during its plunge into financial chaos and collapse, was faced with a money-losing carrier that was down to its last $25 million in cash. AirTran was the successor to ValuJet Airlines Inc., whose bookings plummeted in 1996 following the horrific crash of Flight 592 into the Florida Everglades. "There were very, very few people last January that thought we had any chance of survival," says Leonard, who to this day orders up daily cash reports.

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