Up Front: WHEELER-DEALERS
`LORENZO AT 12 O'CLOCK HIGH!'
FRANK LORENZO'S LATEST airline foray is running into ack-ack from the feds. The Transportation Dept. wants to meet with tiny Nations Air Express of Smyrna, Ga., and Lorenzo to talk over his involvement with the air carrier. The department says that Nations Air documents detail a series of possible transactions between the airline and Lorenzo's companies.
"There's already been some loans and some management expertise provided" dating back to early this summer, says a Transportation official, who declined to reveal the size of the loans. The documents indicate Lorenzo's companies contemplate gaining an ownership stake, the official says.
Transportation worries that Lorenzo, who could not be reached for comment, may already be exercising some control over Nations Air, which started operations in March. The department last year rejected his bid to reenter the airline business with the startup carrier he controlled, ATX. It found ATX unfit to fly because of concerns about safety and management problems at Continental and Eastern under Lorenzo's leadership. Lorenzo blamed the feds' opposition on pressure from a pro-labor Clinton Administration and unfair attacks from unions. Nations Air declines to comment on what it calls a "private matter." The airline, which flies two 737-200 jetliners, offers low-fare service to Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Boston, and Myrtle Beach, S.C. EDITED BY LARRY LIGHT, WITH OLUWABUNMI SHABI Wendy Zellner