PanAm in talks to be airborne

Pan American World Airways, the airline that filed for bankruptcy in the US yesterday, is in discussions for refinancing to put the carrier back in the air.

"We are in discussion with interested parties," Chief Executive Officer David Banmiller said, after a hearing in a bankruptcy court in Miami.

It ceased all operations yesterday, stranding hundreds of passengers in New York and at its home-base of Miami.

Passengers arriving for flights yesterday were greeted by signs informing them of the cancellations and instructions on obtaining refunds. The airline carried about 5,000 passengers daily to 14 cities.

With its sky-blue logo and lettering, Pan Am will once again be absent from the skies. The latest version of Pan Am was created in 1996 as a domestic regional airline. Its owners and managers were relying in part on public goodwill towards a brand that evoked the pioneering days of flight.

Unfortunately, Pan Am also has one much darker association - with the 1988 Lockerbie disaster in Scotland. The tragedy contributed to the demise of the original Pan American which finally went out of business in 1991.

Aviation analysts yesterday said the carrier's main mistake was trying to establish itself as a major US airline, with cross-continent routes, too quickly. Pan Am was offering luxury service in wide-body Airbus aircraft, while trying to keep costs down to those of discount rivals.

The corporate parent remains alive, however, and "will continue to seek outside sources of financing, or a merger, to attempt to resuscitate the airline in the near future", a statement said.

Only a week ago, Pan Am attempted to staunch losses by grounding two Airbus aircraft and lying off 225 staff. It let go 550 workers last September when it acquired Carnival Air, a no-frills Miami carrier. Pan Am had hoped to gain sufficient critical mass with Carnival to compete better with rivals.

Before the bankruptcy announcement, shares in Pan Am were already at a paltry $0.75 (45p), compared with a high of $13.375, reached on 27 September 1996, one day after the carrier went public.

While industry consultants noted that US airlines have often gone into bankruptcy and re-emerged later - including Continental and TWA - there was scant optimism that the Pan Am planes would be in the air again in the near future.

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