TWA's end could be near

Judge accepts American's bid to buy airline's assets

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— TWA's flight to Yampa Valley Regional Airport from St. Louis was on time Monday afternoon, despite a a long weekend of difficult flying weather in northwestern Colorado.

TWA is facing more difficulties than mere snowstorms and poor visibility but the embattled airline received the news it wanted to hear Monday when a federal judge said he plans to accept the $742 million bid by American Airlines for the assets of the bankrupt airline.

Operations at Yampa Valley Regional Airport were returning to normal Monday afternoon after several flights were either diverted or canceled due to poor weather on Sunday. "It was primarily due to poor visibility," Airport manager Jim Parker said. Four large jet flights were diverted and three smaller jets flown by Air Wisconsin were canceled, Parker said. "The only jet that made it in yesterday was Northwest," Parker said. Air Wisconsin's turboprop flights scheduled for later in the day also made it into the airport. It was the daily Northwest flight from Minneapolis that was the only flight diverted Monday morning. There were two American Airlines jets from Dallas on the ground at one time Monday, Parker said, including the flight diverted the day before. Arriving aircraft making their final approach from the west and headed for runway 10 at the airport need a minimum cloud ceiling of 250 feet and ground visibility of three-quarters of a mile in order to land, Parker said. A combination of low ceiling and poor ground visibility led to the diversion and cancellations, he added.

The judge's tentative decision could mean the end of TWA; however, the news could have been worse airline analysts say Judge Peter Walsh was under pressure to make a decision in the acquisition of TWA by American Airlines because creditors who hold the leases for most of TWA's jets could have moved to seize its jets if payments were not made Monday. American had committed to wiring $130 million in emergency financing to the planes' creditors Monday afternoon.

Yampa Valley Regional Airport near Hayden is a blip on the radar screen even for a struggling airline such as TWA, which employs 20,000 workers.

However, the daily flights it operates beginning Dec. 26 and continuing through March 31, were expected to bring as many as 8,500 passengers here during the ski season. By comparison, Northwest Airlines daily flights from Minneapolis bring about 9,100 passengers a winter, Continental Airlines brings 13,800 passengers primarily from Houston, (but also from Newark). American Airlines, which operates daily flights from Dallas, plus one additional flight on weekends, brings in 26,700. (All passenger numbers are estimates prepared for the Routt County budget. Routt County operates the airport.)

TWA's numbers represent less than 10 percent of the total number of passengers moving through Yampa Valley Regional Airport over the course of a year, but the airline provides an important link to the southeastern United States; the flight from St. Louis originates in Atlanta. The aircraft arrives in Hayden at 1:41 p.m.

Statistics released by the county show that through January, TWA's load factors (the percentage of seats filled in its MD-80 140-passenger jet) were 63.3 percent. That's better than Northwest, and United, but not as strong as American and Continental.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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