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1996 | 07 | 11 | Articles | The Wall Street Journal | Business | Transportation
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The Wall Street Journal
July 11, 1996
ValuJet's Future Is Unclear, But Its Jets Are All Too Visible
By STEWART UGELOW
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

The gates are empty, the passengers are gone, but ValuJet Airlines has yet another problem: parking its 51 planes.

The Federal Aviation Administration forced the discount airline to cease operations indefinitely June 17. But early this week, about half of ValuJet’s fleet was still parked at airports in Atlanta and Washington, blocking gates and costing ValuJet money. At Atlanta’s Hartsfield International, one out of every eight domestic gates was filled with parked ValuJet planes, increasing congestion even as Atlanta prepares for Olympic-size traffic.

Three more jets were parked at Washington Dulles International. The rest have been sent to maintenance facilities in Lake City, Fla., and Macon, Ga., or to temporary storage at South Carolina’s Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport.

"We are continuing to explore our options," said ValuJet spokesman Gregg Kenyon, adding that other airlines have expressed "considerable" interest in buying or leasing ValuJet planes.

Airport parking for cars may seem costly, but it’s small change compared to parking a jet. ValuJet pays $9,500 a month for each gate at Dulles, says Charles Erhard, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority’s manager of finance and administration. ValuJet ended gate leases at three other airports Wednesday.

To cut down on parking bills, the airline always could send its fleet to special airplane parking lots in the Arizona desert. One jet can be stored at a field for as little as $350 a month, says Charles Simmons, vice president for operations at the Evergreen Air Center in Marana, Ariz. Indeed, it would be a homecoming of sorts for some of ValuJet’s planes — the airline kept down its start-up costs by buying older planes that other airlines had placed in long-term desert storage.

But ValuJet said Tuesday it hopes to get the FAA’s blessing to resume flying Aug. 1 with a smaller fleet of four to 15 planes. With over $200 million in cash on hand, ValuJet may be able to take its time deciding whether to sell, lease or store the rest.

Either way, the airports hope ValuJet finds someplace else to park. "We don’t know what their plans are" at Dulles airport, says Jonathan Gaffney, spokesman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. "We could certainly use those gates."