AirTran Holdings tried very hard back in 2007 to acquire Midwest Airlines. Midwest, which didn’t want to be acquired, fought the AirTran proposal and instead was “saved” by a buyout from TPG Capital and Northwest Airlines.

In retrospect, AirTran chairman and chief executive officer Robert Fornaro said Wednesday, AirTran came out ahead by losing.

“When we look at our attempted takeover at Midwest, when we look back, we are pretty glad that we were unsuccessful,” Fornaro said on a call with industry analysts.

“When you look back in hindsight, we would have paid too much. We would have been saddled with an integration going through the fuel crisis. As we now look at it, we think we’re going to end up the key mainline carrier in Milwaukee without the purchase,” he said.

His comments came in response to a question about whether AirTran would get involved in mergers and acquisition, with United Airlines reportedly talking to both US Airways and Continental Airlines.

His reply: We’re listening, but we’re not starting anything

If someone approached AirTran, “our fiduciary responsibility is to take a look at it and make sure that we are looking out for our shareholders. We’re not going to initiate it at this point in time because our goal is to improve our balance sheet,” Fornaro said.

“If we can benefit and play a role in a transaction, in perhaps a carveout to get around certain competitive issues, we’d certainly take a look at that. But clearly we would look out for our shareholders if the landscape changes,” he said.

A faltering Midwest was bought in 2009 by Republic Airways. Republic announced this month that Midwest’s name would go away over the next 12 to 18 months in favor of the other airline it bought last year, Frontier Airlines.

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, AirTran was the biggest carrier in Milwaukee during the 12 months ended Jan. 31: 24.0 percent, compared to 14.1 percent for Republic, 13.1 percent for SkyWest, 12.6 percent for Northwest and 7.6 percent for Midwest.

That may be a little misleading, since Midwest was getting feed from Republic, SkyWest and Northwest, I believe. so the family of Midwest-center carriers probably carried more than AirTran.

Howevr, Midwest as a legal airline officially disappeared in November when Republic let its operating certificate expire.

AirTran kept growing its market share during the period, and AirTran pegged it at 30 percent now. The numbers also don’t reflect any presence for Southwest Airlines, which began service there in November.

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