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Ultra-Low Fares Entice Passengers Back To Valujet

Rock-bottom fares succeeded in drawing passengers back to ValuJet Airlines in its first full month in the air following a 15-week grounding imposed by the federal government.

Offering fares as low as $19 on some one-way flights, ValuJet flew 154,292 passengers in October and its planes were 72.1 percent full, the airline said Wednesday.

The low fares boosted ValuJet’s traffic, “but that’s an acceptable way to get attention after all they’ve been through,” said Morten Beyer, an industry consultant in McLean, Va.

A big hurdle for ValuJet was reestablishing itself with passengers after the publicity over the grounding and its May 11 crash in the Florida Everglades.

“They accomplished exactly what they set out to do,” said Lee Howard, an airline industry consultant in Atlanta. “I would say they ought to be overjoyed.”

The number of passengers in October was down sharply - 67.7 percent - from the same month one year earlier. But the airline, which resumed limited service Sept. 30, also had about three times more planes a year ago.

Its average percentage of seats filled was 64.2 percent in October 1995. Analysts said the industry average for this time of year is about 65 percent.

“It is clear that air travelers have embraced the return of ValuJet and our affordable, everyday air fares,” said Robert Priddy, chairman of the airline’s parent company, ValuJet Inc.

After last month’s ultra-low fares, the airline recently reinstituted a regular price structure with one-way fares ranging from $29 to $149.

The Federal Aviation Administration grounded ValuJet about a month after the crash, which killed 110 people, because of concern about its safety and maintenance record. The FAA and the Department of Transportation cleared the airline after an extensive review, though the cause of the crash remains under investigation.