Originally created 07/05/97

ValuJet still light on passengers



ATLANTA (AP) - ValuJet is still falling short on its comeback bid, filling slightly more than half its seats as the busy summer travel season began.

The Atlanta-based discount airline said Thursday it posted a load factor of 53 percent in June. That was well above the 40.2 percent mark of a year earlier, when the airline was shut down at midmonth following the Everglades crash. It was slightly higher than the 52.8 percent mark of May.

But the report was disappointing, considering that major airlines are expected to fill 75 to 80 percent of their seats for the month, said Samuel Buttrick, an analyst at PaineWebber who has closely followed ValuJet's fortunes.

"Operations are good, the cost trajectory is good, loads are bad," Buttrick told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

In late June, ValuJet took some steps to spur summer ridership, such as joining travel agent reservations systems and adding bus service to outlying cities from Atlanta.

The airline now has 30 planes approved for use, up from 15 when it resumed operations last fall, and will add new Washington-Chicago and Boston-Philadelphia flights July 10.

ValuJet has said it expects to report a loss for the second quarter, with a chance of a profit in the third quarter. Buttrick forecasts a break-even result for the third quarter.

The airline issued the report after the stock market closed early Thursday. Its stock closed at $7, up 91/2 cents.