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Midwest Air Group Inc., long the object of a takeover attempt by AirTran Holdings Inc., has at least three other suitors that want to buy the regional airline. The Milwaukee-based operator of Midwest Airlines said it has signed confidentiality agreements with four interested parties. That means those four parties can begin looking at Midwest's corporate files as Midwest opens itself up for a possible sale.

Midwest did not name the four companies or specify if they were airlines, other types of companies or institutional investors. But one of them is certainly AirTran Holdings, which operates low-cost AirTran Airways. Midwest announced Tuesday that a 5 person committee of its board of directors would start discussions with AirTran in addition to other potential acquirers. The five-member committee will explore Midwest's options and make a recommendation to the full board. AirTran has bid $389 million.

In the meantime, AirTran Airways reported that July passenger traffic surged 30.1 percent on increased capacity, to reach an all-time high for the company. Traffic grew to more than 1.81 billion revenue passenger miles, from 1.39 billion in the prior-year period. A revenue passenger mile is an industry unit measuring one paying passenger flown one mile.

Capacity increased 23 percent to 2.1 billion available seat miles, from 1.71 billion available seat miles in July 2006. AirTran's load factor, or percentage of seats filled, was 86 percent, compared with 81.3 percent in June 2006. More than 2.4 million passengers boarded AirTran planes, a 22.7 percent increase over a year ago. AirTran said July revenue passenger miles, available seat miles, passengers boarded and load factors represent all-time company records.

Year-to-date traffic grew 22.5 percent to 9.98 billion revenue passenger miles, from 8.15 billion. Capacity increased 21.2 percent to 13.06 billion available seat miles. Load factor rose to 76.5 percent from 75.7 percent, and the number of passengers boarded jumped 16.5 percent to 13.8 million.

Who is glad to see load factor increasing but concerned that any other bidders know the terms of the current offer which is valid through August 10th, and is not sure whether any of the AirTran-sponsored board members are on the review committee...
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