Air Transport World

Jack of all trades. (American Trans Air) (Company Profile)

This summer, American Trans Air will operate anywhere from 70 to 100 weekly flights across the Atlantic, offering upward of 23,000 seats with a fleet that includes a dozen Lockheed L-1011s and six Boeing 757s.

American who?

Getting proper recognition in an industry dominated by behemoths can be a problem even for an airline as busy as American Trans Air. For example, how many people know that during the Gulf War, the Indianapolis-based airline flew more missions and carried more troops than any other U.S. passenger carrier or that with only 2,400 employees, it will do around $450 million in business this year?

On the other hand, being invisible isn't all bad, either. If the big guys don't see you, they won't step on you. That is a lesson not lost on American Trans Air, which has built itself into the largest charter airline in the U.S. by being flexible and avoiding the big guys.

"If there is a cornerstone to our philosophy it is cowardice," Chairman George Mikelsons tells ATW. "We will avoid the big scheduled carriers and the temptation of scheduled service at any cost." Such restraint has its rewards: Until Saddam Hussein ruined it for everybody, American Trans Air had an unbroken streak of profitability going back over a decade, no small achievement, considering how many U.S. charters disappeared after the airline industry was deregulated.

But then, perhaps because it was born into it, the airline appears to thrive on adversity. "American Trans Air grew up under enormous hardships and because of that, it has a real can-do attitude," Mikelsons says.

The company got its start as a travel club in 1973, back when the Civil Aeronautics Board ruled commercial aviation with an iron hand and refused to certificate any new airline. As a travel club, Amtran could serve only its members--not the general public. "We couldn't advertise routes, rates or schedules. …

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