GANGWAL TOUCHES DOWN AS USAIR'S NEW PRESIDENT;VET OF PEOPLE;PLAYER OF THE WEEK;UNITED AND AIR FRANCE ARRIVES AS AIRLINE FACES GROWING LOW-FARE RIVALRY

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In an effort to find a fresh direction, Rakesh Gangwal was appointed president-chief operating officer at USAir Group by new CEO Stephen Wolf.

Mr. Gangwal, 42, has expertise in route restructuring "and making the tough decisions," said Paul Karos, an airline industry analyst at CS First Boston.

Some of those decisions will involve USAir's ad budget. The company spent about $63 million last year. Mr. Gangwal succeeds retiring Frank Salizzoni Feb. 19, arriving at a time when low-fare competition is increasing from ValueJet, Southwest Airlines and a startup in USAir's backyard.

New discount carrier JetTrain, also based in Pittsburgh, got off the ground Jan. 27 with service to Newark, N.J., and Orlando.

"They need to figure out who they are," said David Stamey, VP-aviation at consultancy Avitas Aviation, about USAir. "They used to be a player in Florida; now they're basically out. A lot of their markets have had competitive intrusion. Do they go more international [or] transcontinental east-west?"

Mr. Gangwal is known for streamlining routes at United Airlines and improving the Paris market as a hub for Air France, as VP-planning and development since November '94. He worked at United for 11 years when Mr. Wolf was guiding the airline.

Though the carrier posted its first profit in seven years for the fourth quarter of '95, and a 10% revenue increase to $1.85 billion, labor negotiations and problems with costs have resulted in the new management.

With USAir's average seat cost per mile at 11.5 cents, 30% higher than the industry average, the carrier has been faulted for its moves against discount rivals.

"Some would say it's a suicide mission," said Jim O'Donnell, chairman of consultancy Seabrook Marketing. "They cut fares across the board and add capacity, whereas others like United give deals on certain flights with a limited number of seats."

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