AirTran's Robust Growth to Add Jobs in Georgia

AirTran Airways expects to add about 2,500 jobs in Georgia over the next five years, continuing its rapid growth rate of recent years as it finishes up a huge order for new aircraft.

The 7,700-employee airline said it expects to grow by about 500 jobs a year in Georgia and slightly more companywide as it adds jets, flights and destinations. The airline said it has about 5,200 employees in Georgia.

The carrier, which is based in Orlando but has its hub in Atlanta, plans to trumpet the job growth at a news conference today with Gov. Sonny Perdue.

AirTran's job generation is nothing new, however. It's been adding about 900 jobs a year nationwide since placing an order for up to 110 Boeing 737s and 717s in June 2003, and it was growing for years before that. Discount carriers like AirTran have kept growing and making at least small profits while larger rivals suffered in this decade.

A spokesman for Perdue, whose office issued an advisory on an "economic development announcement" today, said the governor felt the event would be a good way to highlight AirTran's growth.

"We want to highlight the success they're making," said the spokesman, Dan McLagan. "Twenty-five hundred jobs over five years is tremendous growth ... [the] equivalent of a major auto plant."

Bert Brantley, a spokesman for the Georgia Department of Economic Development, said the governor also plans to announce a state-funded training program that will allow AirTran managers and other employees to get training in leadership and other skills through the state university system. He did not have figures on the cost or duration of the program.

AirTran's continued growth counters the relatively bleak times in the Atlanta airport's neighborhood, with Delta Air Lines' bankruptcy and continued job cuts, and the announced closings of the Ford assembly plant at Hapeville and Fort McPherson a few miles away.

Since launching its multibillion-dollar aircraft order in 2003, AirTran has added almost 30 new jets and 2,700 employees companywide, and has converted purchase options to firm orders for the last 24 of those 110 jets, to be delivered in 2008 and 2010.

Each new jet means roughly 70 new jobs in AirTran's operations, ranging from ramp workers making about $11 an hour to pilots topping $125,000 a year.

Discount carriers have used relatively low wages to help make money with low fares, although the wage gap has narrowed in recent years as big carriers like Delta Air Lines retool.

Currently, about two out of three AirTran employees are based in Georgia. AirTran, created by the 1997 merger of Atlanta-based ValuJet and a smaller Orlando-based carrier, is the second-largest carrier at Hartsfield-Jackson International, after Delta.

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