ATA Holdings Agrees To Consider Offers For Chicago Express

Chicago Express Airlines Inc. creditor, NatTel, has renewed its efforts to buy the commuter line from its parent, ATA Holdings Corp., offering $38,000 for it.

NatTel LLC submitted a bid to ATA Holdings late Wednesday after the company agreed to consider offers for Chicago Express, according to NatTel's counsel.

Aaron Hammer said that NatTel's latest offer includes a release absolving the company from $15 million in intercompany debt owed to Chicago Express.

Hammer told DBR that NatTel, a Stamford, Conn.-based investment firm founded by Jack E. Robinson, a former Eastern Airlines executive, is prepared to bring $85 million of new aircraft leases to Chicago Express to keep it flying.

Chicago Express operates a fleet of 17 leased 34-passenger planes that fly between Chicago-Midway Airport and a number of cities in the Midwest.

Citing Robinson's experience in the airline industry, Hammer said that Robinson's firm intends to run Chicago Express as a going concern, rather than shutting it down as ATA Holdings had planned to do by late March.

NatTel would, Hammer said, offer employment to all existing employees of Chicago Express, and keep the commuter line intact.

Hammer said that ATA Holdings hasn't yet responded to NatTel's latest offer, which would include a service agreement through which Chicago Express would continue to provide ticketing services to ATA Holdings and its ATA Airlines Inc. unit.

NatTel has been battling to protect the interests of Chicago Express creditors in the Chapter 11 case ATA Holdings commenced in late October 2004. The firm lost its initial bid to buy the commuter line for $37,700 when the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Indianapolis on Dec. 22, 2004, approved a $117 million deal between ATA Holdings and Southwest Airlines Co. A hearing on NatTel's bid to have an examiner appointed in the Chapter 11 case was set for Tuesday but has been continued until Feb. 14 in light of ATA Holdings' decision to consider bids for Chicago Express.

With the sale options under consideration, we are comfortable putting on hold the examiner request, Hammer said.

ATA Holdings officials didn't return calls for comment on NatTel's offer. The company bought Chicago Express in May 1999 for $1.9 million.