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USAIR'S FINANCIAL TROUBLES TO DEEPEN IN WAKE OF 5TH CRASH, AIRLINE ANALYST SAYS

An airline industry analyst predicted Friday that USAir's financial troubles will deepen as a result of Thursday night's Flight 427 crash outside Pittsburgh, which killed all 132 passengers and crew aboard.

The crash marked the fifth for Pittsburgh-based USAir in the past five years - a fact likely to make travelers think twice when booking reservations, according to Tom Carroll, a fixed-income analyst for the Duff & Phelps financial-investment firm."This won't have a positive impact," Carroll said. "USAir will have to be called on the carpet to answer why it has been responsible for so many major crashes in the past five years.

Carroll also projected "an immediate impact on the revenue stream.

"People are going to stop flying USAir," he said. "Lower-cost carriers have (already) made a real incursion into (USAir's) market niche. People now have the availability of Continental and Southwest - which they didn't have at other times."

Such jitters apparently hurt USAir's stock on Wall Street, where the company's shares lost 50 cents to close at $6.125 a share in heavy New York Stock Exchange trading.

USAir Chairman Seth Schofield acknowledged financial concerns during a Pittsburgh news conference.

"Public opinion is something we will have to deal with," Schofield told reporters. "It is a matter of consumer confidence, and we will have to be very aware and sensitive to that issue.

"I think we'll address it through continuing with our safety program and through addition surveillance (of safety), both internally and with the (Federal Aviation Administration)."

Schofield dismissed concerns about USAir's five crashes in five years, calling each accident "totally dissimilar."

He added that while the carrier has had "very stringent cost cutting" in recent years, "there have been no shortcuts whatsoever with respect to airworthiness programs or training for any of our employees."

Schofield also said he did not expect Thursday's crash to hurt USAir's relationship with British Airways, which owns 24 percent of the Pittsburgh-based carrier.

However, British Airways previously deferred a planned $450 million investment in USAir until the U.S. carrier reduces expenses.

Analyst Carroll said USAir, the nation's fifth largest carrier both in terms of total revenue and passenger load, spends more than 11 cents for every passenger mile flown, compared to 8.5 cents for American Airlines and 7.3 cents for Southwest.

USAir posted a $200 million first-quarter loss this year, blaming its poor showing on competition from Continental and Southwest.

Thursday's crash represented the worst U.S. air disaster since 1987, as well as the second crash so far this year for USAir.

In July, 37 people died when a USAir flight crashed at Charlotte, N.C.

Carroll said it does not appear USAir has stinted maintenance, as the carrier's spending in that area has remained constant or increased over the past three years.

The analyst added that if USAir can hold on for three or four months, its passenger load likely will recover.

"People will forget the crash," Carroll said.