No. 2 AirTran Grows Quietly in Shadow of No. 1 Southwest

AirTran's COO says the airline's formula puts it in an elite club of moneymakers, no matter its ranking.

In that case, AirTran seemed content to just add a few flights from Dulles. However, Smith, the professor, says the airline may not always be content not to be No. 1.

"Once AirTran builds the scale and scope economies -- moves to No. 2 in more significant markets -- it may then be able to more formally engage Southwest because it can then compete on costs. At this point, AirTran needs to be the more aggressive competitor if it is to dethrone the leader," Smith said.

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