AirTran Seek Support of Midwest Shareholders

AirTran Airways executives are appealing to Midwest Air shareholders for support of their tender offer to buy out the Milwaukee-based carrier.

In a letter released Friday, AirTran Chief Executive Joe Leonard and President Bob Fornaro told Midwest shareholders that the offer allows them to "speak directly to your board."

"Tender your shares pursuant to AirTran's offer, and let your board know that you want them to sit down and negotiate a merger agreement with AirTran," the letter urges.

AirTran launched a public takeover bid in December after being rebuffed privately by Midwest's management and board. It sweetened the proposal and made it a tender offer earlier this month. The offer expires Feb. 8.

In the letter to Midwest shareholders, AirTran contends the merged airline would be "a stronger, truly national low-cost carrier ... that would generate improved profit potential through a number of revenue and cost synergies."

It contends that Midwest's stand-alone growth plans are weak and would leave the company "highly vulnerable to competitive incursions" from both large and small rivals.

"If you look at Midwest's record over the past five years, it is clear that existing management has been unable to achieve anything approaching consistent profitability," the letter says.

AirTran's offer is for $13.25 per share of Midwest stock.

The merger bid by AirTran, which has its main flight hub in Atlanta, comes as rival Delta Air Lines tries to fend off a hostile bid from US Airways and talk of other potential mergers swirls across the industry.

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