Air Transport World

Florida Express aims to avoid mistakes of other low-fare carriers.

Florida Express aims to avoid mistakes of other low-fare carriers Orlando--The best-laid plans, etc. The game plan of Orlando-based Florida Express was working like a charm for about two and one-half years. Finding a niche and sticking to it--that is, providing low-fare, full-service flights into the Orlando hub from under-served mid-size cities east of the Mississippi and then fanning out to other Florida destinations--had produced nine consecutive profitable quarters through December 1986. Not bad for a start-up.

Then it all hit the fan. When Continental and Eastern's "MaxSaver" cutrate storm hit the industry in late January, a glitch in the software of the CRS subscribed to by Florida Express sabotaged the efforts of the carrier to defend its market.

Although its own reservations computers correctly displayed the availability of capacity-controlled deeper-discount seats on its flights, those used by travel agents--responsible for 65% of Florida Express sales--were erroneously indicating that the seats on many flights were sold out when in fact they were not. Business was being diverted to eastern, Delata, Piedmont and others.

The carrier became aware of the problem when load factors and advance bookings dropped sharply in January and February, contrary to expectations. Steps were taken to fix the problem, and advance business for March and April was looking good when ATW recently visited the airline. There was a fighting chance that March would pull Florida Express out of its uncharacteristic slump and the quarter could end in the black, we were told.

If it does it will have vindicated the strategy of Chairman/CEO Gordon Linkon and the management team he has assembled. At the heart of the team and among the founders of the airline are Linkon, President/COO Kenneth W. Gann and Sr. VP-Corporate Planning Robert J. Coombs. In a sense they represent the reunion of The Three Musketeers. They were buddies at the old Frontier Airlines, where Linkon was VP-marketing; they came togethr again at Midway Airlines, where Linkon was president; and after he started Florida Express in 1983, they rejoined him in Orlando. …

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