Braniff Inc.'s first four weeks of operation as a discount airline have not provided enough business for the struggling carrier to turn a profit, a Braniff spokeswoman said yesterday. But the company insisted it is too early to call the discount plan a failure.
"I don't think you can determine whether or not it's going to be a success," Braniff spokeswoman Barbara Potter said. "We really don't think that a month is enough time yet to see what will happen."
Potter also said Braniff is continuing to seek a merger partner, and that it recently had merger talks with another airline. She would not say what carrier Braniff had been talking with.
She also denied reports that Dallas-based Braniff was so strapped for cash that it was trying to sell its leases for unused airport gates in Denver and Chicago as well as some of its equipment to raise money. While Potter confirmed that Braniff had offered the gates for sale, she indicated that such a sale was not urgent. "It's not an effort to raise money," Potter said.
Braniff rose earlier this year from the ashes of Braniff International, which filed for federal bankruptcy protection in May 1982. The new Braniff began operations as a full-service airline on a limited schedule, with Dallas as a base. But when that plan failed to produce sufficient revenue, the company switched strategies and became a discount carrier on Sept. 7, in what was seen by analysts as a last-ditch attempt to keep the airline in business. The old Braniff had tried a similar strategy in the months before its demise.
The airline's main competitors, Delta and American, matched Braniff's low fares during September. Passengers so far have failed to respond as Braniff had hoped.
In September, Potter said, Braniff's load factor -- the percentage of occupied seats -- was about 49 percent. That's well below the 60 to 62 percent Braniff says it needs to break even on operations, and it's not too far above the 45 percent load factor analysts had expected the airline to show in September had it not cut its fares. Delta and American officials also report that the low fares brought small increases in September traffic.
"We are not carrying the traffic we need to break even," Potter conceded. But she said Braniff officials are hoping the airline's popularity will grow; in the meantime, the carrier is shuffling routes to take advantage of flights that are most popular. On Tuesday, Braniff announced it would end service to Tulsa at the end of the month and add flights from Dallas to Phoenix and Los Angeles, more popular destinations.
"We believe that overall, given some time, our loads will pick up," Potter said.
It is unclear just how long Braniff can wait. According to a report last week, Braniff is down to $16 million in cash, enough for a few weeks of operation. Potter would not confirm that figure, and in any case, she said, the amount of cash the airline has on hand changes daily, depending on payroll needs, income, operating costs and other factors.
The sale of some of the airline's surplus gates and equipment would add to the cash available. Last month, Braniff sold four flight simulators for $6.1 million, and Patrick Foley, the company's vice chairman, has said that Braniff is trying to sell its leases on two gates at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago and one gate at Stapleton Airport in Denver. According to one account, Braniff would receive about $16 million from such a sale.
Potter said Braniff has talked with other airlines about selling the gates and other equipment, but she said no agreements have been reached. She said Braniff would continue to sell surplus property.