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Southwest's acquisition of AirTran celebrated

Photo by M.J. Subiria Arauz
Gary Kelly (left) and Bob Jordan, of Southwest Airlines, emerge from a AirTran Airways plane, as a photographer takes pictures. The low-fare carriers celebrated the closing of Southwest's acquisition of AirTran Holdings, Inc.

Photo by M.J. Subiria Arauz Gary Kelly (left) and Bob Jordan, of Southwest Airlines, emerge from a AirTran Airways plane, as a photographer takes pictures. The low-fare carriers celebrated the closing of Southwest's acquisition of AirTran Holdings, Inc.

A roaring crowd of more than 1,000 people filled the AirTran Airways Maintenance Hangar at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, on Monday.

Audience members, including Southwest Airlines and AirTran Airways employees, were cheering and awaiting the arrival of top officials of both low-fare carriers.

Southwest Airlines announced the "closing" of its acquisition of AirTran Holdings, Inc., the parent company of AirTran Airways, during a celebration at the hangar.

Southwest closed on its purchase of all the outstanding common stock of AirTran Holdings, making AirTran Airways a subsidiary of Southwest Airlines, Co., according to officials of Southwest.

Gary Kelly, CEO, chairman and president of Southwest Airlines, along with Bob Jordan, executive vice president of strategy and planning at Southwest, and Robert Fornaro, full-time consultant for the integration of both airlines, and former CEO of AirTran Airways, arrived at the hangar in an AirTran Airways plane. They came from Dallas, Texas, where Southwest's headquarters is located.

"The timing of today's closing in the current market environment could not be more important," said Kelly. "With soaring fuel costs putting many airlines, yet again, in the red, Southwest brings many strengths to bear."

These strengths, continued Kelly, include profitability and financial security.

Cynthia Tinsley-Douglas, spokeswoman for AirTran Airways, said the airlines will operate separately, until Southwest receives the single operating certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration. The certification will allow the two to operate as one.

Southwest will obtain the certificate in the first quarter of 2012, but until then, both airlines will continue to operate under their own policies, procedures and product features, officials said.

Kelly said AirTran's aircraft will be converted to the Southwest brand, beginning in 2012. It is anticipated that all of AirTran's 138 airplanes will be changed 2013, or 2014, he said.

"The acquisition of AirTran represents a unique opportunity to extend our network into key markets we don't yet serve, such as Atlanta and Washington, D.C.," said Kelly. He added that the integration will allow Southwest to serve more than 100 million people per year, from more than 100 different airports in the U.S., and several international locations

The unification will let Southwest have more low-fare destinations as it diversifies and expands, Kelly said. "The successful closing of this transaction is a significant accomplishment, and marks a great day in the history of Southwest Airlines. Our first order of business is to welcome our new friends from AirTran to the family, in a truly Southwest Airlines way," said Kelly.

He added that Bob Jordan, executive vice president of Southwest Airlines, will serve as AirTran's president during the integration period. Jordan said Bob Fornaro will be a full-time consultant for the integration of both airlines, and will work closely with him and Kelly, to ensure a smooth transition.

Officials said Southwest's headquarters will remain in Dallas, with AirTran's operations and presence in Orlando, Fla., and Atlanta under review. AirTran is headquartered in Orlando, and has its major hub is in Atlanta.