Island Air had better get Larry Ellison to write a check and order that new batch of turboprops soon, or else there won't be any customers left if things keep going the way they are.
Island Air’s new CEO, Paul Casey, called the carrier’s recently acquired fleet “unreliable” and chastised employees after a weekend of delays.
Casey said Island Air, Hawaii’s third-largest interisland carrier, is looking to bring in different turboprop aircraft.
The turmoil at the company comes about a month after former president Les Murashige retired due to “personal reasons.” Murashige took over the reins last October and was in charge when billionaire Larry Ellison bought the struggling airline in February.
Casey, who took over as CEO on May 1, said in an internal email Monday to the company’s 260 employees that last weekend proved to be a big challenge to both the airline’s customers and employees after flight disruptions that included one seven-hour delay.
“We have an unreliable fleet and are currently working on a re-fleeting plan with the owner,” Casey said in an email obtained by the Star-Advertiser. “This process will take a few weeks but the plan is to acquire a new fleet of reliable turboprops.”
Casey declined to elaborate on the fleet replacement in a phone interview Friday with the Star-Advertiser and referred to the cause of the delays as “operating issues” without being more specific.
“We had a bad operating weekend, and everybody knows we’re working on improving the reliability and the customer service, and part of that is analyzing fleet options for future growth,” he said. “That is going on right now. What’s important is the customer, and we disappointed a bunch of customers over the weekend and it won’t happen again.”
Casey declined to identify the aircraft being considered for the fleet, but the 78-seat Q400, which Island Air flew briefly in 2006, and the ATR-600, which seats from 64 to 70 passengers depending on configuration, are possibilities, according to a person familiar with the situation. Casey said the company’s analysis would include what to do with the existing fleet of ATR 72s.
Island Air has been upgrading its fleet since the change of ownership by changing to larger aircraft, the 64-seat ATR 72, from the 37-seat de Haviland Dash 8. There are four ATRs in the fleet now with a fifth one due to arrive next month. All the Dash 8s are gone.
Yet the airline’s ATRs, which were built in 1993, apparently aren’t the answer for a carrier that has been hoping to grab a bigger share of the interisland market.
Casey, a former CEO of Hawaiian Airlines and the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, said in the email to employees that communication Sunday within the company was “bad” and resulted in a lack of communication to the customer. He said the airline is putting together a plan to ensure that the communication breakdown never happens again.
“I know many of you had to face customers who were upset at the delays and most of you handled them professionally,” Casey wrote. “I did get some reports of unprofessional responses to some customer issues and that is unacceptable.”
Casey said there are three things an airline needs to do well: 1) Be safe, 2) Operate on time and 3) Focus on the customer.
“We do item one well,” he wrote. “Item 2 we are working on. Item 3, I thought we were making progress on but some reports from customers over the weekend show me we have work to do.” ___
Photo credit: An Island Air turboprop, shown in 2008. Bill Abbott