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Jeff Pinneo: Piloting a Business Through Challenging Times

Jeff Pinneo was appointed president and CEO of Horizon Air in January 2002. He has over 30 years of aviation experience, more than 26 of them with Alaska Air Group.

Previously, Pinneo served as vice president of customer services at Horizon beginning in 1990. In that role, he oversaw Horizon’s largest division, which included station operations, in-flight services, security, and food and beverage service.

In his present role, Pinneo leads a team of approximately 3,800 employees. Horizon operates a fleet of more than 65 aircraft, serving over 45 cities in the Western United States and Canada. During his tenure as CEO, Horizon has grown from $415 million in revenues to over $720 million in 2007, posting improved profitability in all but one of the years following 9/11. Under his leadership, the Horizon team was recognized by Air Transport World magazine as its 2007 Regional Airline of the Year.

Prior to joining Horizon, Pinneo served in Alaska Airlines’ marketing department as director of advertising and, prior to that, business travel marketing manager. He also was responsible for the original implementation of Alaska’s frequent-flier program, then known as Gold Coast Travel and now called the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan. He began with Alaska as a passenger service coordinator in 1981.

Before coming to Alaska, Pinneo worked for Evergreen International Airlines as a sales representative. He began his airline career as a flight attendant for Continental Airlines while completing his undergraduate degree.

Pinneo is a past chairman of the board for the Regional Airline Association and serves on various nonprofit boards, including the Puget Sound Leadership Board for Medical Teams International, Point Loma Nazarene University President’s Advisory Board, and the Washington State University College of Business National Board of Advisors.

A graduate of the University of Washington, Pinneo holds a master’s degree through the Presidential/Key Executive MBA program at Pepperdine University.

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The airline business is faced with challenges on many fronts today, from post 9/11 security, to new competitors, to rising fuel prices. How is it going?

Jeff Pinneo: You’re right, these are among the most challenging times our industry has ever faced, with every one of these issues you noted and others looming large, so it’s been tough. In times like these, it’s imperative that we be clear on what we can influence and remain focused on executing against our plan.

I would think the lead times in your business are pretty long relative to a lot of businesses, is that right?

In one sense, it’s very true, as an aircraft-purchase decision drives a long-term commitment. That said, one advantage of aircraft is that they can be redeployed rather quickly to pursue new, better revenue opportunities that might emerge. So while the capital decisions are long term, we have some tactical flexibility in the short term.

When Lew Platt was CEO of Hewlett Packard, he said that 75 percent of their revenue came from products that did not exist 18 months before.

That’s wild. I suppose that market selection is our industry’s rough equivalent, but I know we don’t have the R&D horsepower or the “turn” capability to make that claim. Right now our industry is struggling to restructure in response to the pressures imposed on it. I think there is general consensus that something rather dramatic is going to be necessary to rationalize capacity to what the marketplace needs and to restore the level of pricing power needed to keep up with the rapidly changing conditions — fuel particularly. There will undoubtedly be more carnage in the form of bankruptcies and open liquidations. Merger and acquisition activity will likely increase as well, but other than a lot of activity between Delta and Northwest, there is nothing definitive at the moment. [Editor’s note: Since this interview on March 24, four U.S. airlines declared Chapter 7 (liquidation) bankruptcy in the first week of April; Frontier filed for Chapter 11 protection on April 11; and Delta and Northwest announced a deal on April 15.]

Regional Carrier of the Year

In 2007, Horizon Air was selected as the regional airline of the year. What did you do to deserve the award?

It’s a global award given by a leading publication in our industry, Air Transport World. Each year they select a worldwide winner in several different categories: the airline of the year, the regional airline of the year, the market development airline of the year, and so on. When Horizon Air was selected, we were most gratified at the range of criteria they cited, including financial performance, business model innovation, service excellence, and culture.

Can you offer some specific things that stood out?

Much of their focus was on our strategies following 9/11 and the differences in our business model from that of every other U.S. regional airline. Most regional airlines simply contract to fly for one of the major carriers — they provide the airplanes, crews, and maintenance for a cost-plus fee while the “major” partner takes the revenue risk and all functions associated with it, including pricing, scheduling, and marketing. The regionals do not promote their own brands — they sport the liveries of their major partners and are responsible for operating to specifications set by the major. If they exceed the specs, they generally receive bonus payments, and there are penalties for falling short.

At Horizon, while we are under the Alaska Air Group umbrella, we have continued to manage our own brand flying, while also providing capacity in support of the Alaska network and, for three years following 9/11, in support of Frontier Airlines out of Denver. The excess capacity we had following that event coincided with Frontier’s need for a new regional partner, making this Frontier JetExpress flying our first venture into anything outside of Alaska Air Group. This hybrid-approach was pretty unique in the U.S., and it was successful in restoring profitability to the company. I think it was the approach we took and the results our people generated that attracted the attention of the selection committee.

As you move more toward a market model within the Alaska Air Group, do you compete with Alaska Airlines?

In a sense we do. We’re first and foremost “family,” so whatever we do in setting strategy and managing the company, we do to the good of the order. However, both Alaska and Horizon have their own profit and loss statements to manage and both compete for capital within the Group. It’s in that arena where the internal competition is most evident — both companies are held to the same high return-on-capital standards by the board, and the CAPEX pool is finite. For Horizon to secure additional investment, it must be competitive with alternative uses for capital proposed by Alaska.

Providing Service During Flooding

In December 2007, there was sudden flooding in the state of Washington, closing Interstate 5 between Seattle and Portland for about a week. How did Horizon Airlines respond?

Though we’ve had similar episodes with closed roads over the mountain passes in the past, the scale of this incident was unprecedented. As residents of the communities we serve, we recognized those affected as our neighbors and sought to treat them as such. So our approach was focused on adding more service where it was needed for as long as we could. When people are stranded far from where they need to be, the situation calls for empathy and skill, both of which our people brought in spades to the situation. We even had some editorial cartoon coverage in Portland, where they showed one of our planes lifting stranded semi-trucks over the flooded area. That was comic relief for us!

Any temptation to raise your price during that time?

It never really came up because of the mindset we’d adopted about the situation. In fact, we’d just a few months prior introduced a much simplified, much lower fare structure in the market, with walk-up fares set at $99, down from the $150 level. Our shared values are both a guide and a touchstone in situations like this, so the notion of taking advantage of the adverse situation by raising prices didn’t hit the radar.

Responding to Mechanical Problems

It was also last year that you had the problem with some airplanes, requiring you to pull them out of service for inspection. Tell us a little bit about that.

It was last fall, and it involved our 76-seat Q400 turboprop aircraft, of which we had about 33 at the time. Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) also operates the Q400, and in September and October they experienced three consecutive accidents involving their main landing gear. Thankfully, there were no fatalities in any of the incidents, but suffice to say, the sequence itself — three accidents at one airline involving one system within two months — was unprecedented. The accidents occurred in Europe, and the manufacturer of the airplane is Canadian, all of which made it a bit challenging to figure out which regulatory direction to follow.

When people are stranded far from where they need to be, the situation calls for empathy and skill.

Rather than wait to sort it out, we decided to take action in advance of specific directives by grounding our higher-time aircraft to perform proactive, preventative inspections of the landing-gear systems. We worked closely with the manufacturer as they relayed information from the SAS experiences that was useful to the inspection. As more data from the accidents came available, we were able to focus the inspections and take any appropriate action prior to returning the aircraft to service. Shortly thereafter, Transport Canada (the Canadian equivalent of the DOT) issued more specific direction, which we were already well on our way to complying with.

Were you required to do so, or were you motivated out of concern for litigation?

We’d never experienced an incident anything like those at SAS, and we didn’t want there to be a first time. Litigation concern was not the issue — our overriding commitment to safety was. The guidance we were receiving at that time was strictly from the manufacturer and from Transport Canada — they have jurisdiction over the fleet but not directly over Horizon. The Danish authorities had taken action with SAS, grounding the entire fleet. Our first action was self directed — with safety as the pre-eminent consideration in anything we do, it was the right thing to do. Ultimately, Transport Canada, and later the FAA came out with specific airworthiness directives on the matter, most of which we were already in compliance with. Aircraft were only returned to service after they were fully compliant with all these directives.

As far as you know, did everybody else that flew the same kind of airplanes follow the same pattern you did?

It was mixed, but I should note that the only other carriers using the plane at the time were outside the U.S. Some did as we did and some waited until they were directed. As it turned out, we were helped in our process by Frontier Airlines. Though they didn’t have the Q400 in service, they had accepted delivery of four or five of them in anticipation of receiving certification to launch. With the planes parked in Denver, they made great “spare parts” stores in the pinch, thanks to our prior good working relationship with Frontier.

What kind of response did you get from customers?

Pretty extraordinary, actually. While inconvenience ranging from mild to severe was universal, our customers were amazingly gracious and thankful for the actions we took to put safety first and to accommodate them as best we could. Our people were truly heroic during this time — beyond the overtime, their character, skill, and compassion came to the surface in ways that were evident to all. An old friend once told me that adversity doesn’t shape character — it reveals it. Our customers saw that first hand and they were quick to let us know. They knew that the groundings were costing us a great deal, and they told us how much they appreciated all we were doing on their behalf.

What impact did this have on your schedules?

All told, we cancelled nearly 1,000 flights during this chapter, so anywhere between 60,000 and 75,000 people were directly affected. Because we operate three different fleet types, we were able to re-accommodate many on other Horizon and, in some cases, Alaska flights. But it was very challenging, no question about it.

Dealing with Fuel Prices

You also had the fuel price increases in the last year, something all of us have felt as drivers. How does that affect your business model?

To say “dramatically” would be an understatement. For Alaska Air Group, every time the price of crude oil changes a dollar per barrel, it shifts our expenses $10 million. Over the last year, we’ve seen our fuel costs increase by over $300 million, with much of that increase materializing just in the last few months, after the 2008 budgets were finalized. So, volatility is also an aspect of the problem. The other is just the raw expense impact, which we worked to address as best we can through our hedging program. We have a second best in industry program at Air Group level, which has helped us somewhat. In addition, our flight-operations teams have fielded an array of fuel-saving procedures, ranging from cruise-speed modifications to single-engine taxis. At over $1 billion for Alaska Air Group, fuel has surpassed labor as our number-one expense item.

I remember some studies from the early ‘90s, when fuel represented about 16 percent of the cost for an airline at that time. No one was really interested in more fuel-efficient airplanes.

It’s bigger than just the cost of fuel — it’s increasingly about the use of fossil fuel and the impact of aviation on the environment. Airlines worldwide are under a great deal of pressure to mitigate everything from their carbon footprint to their noise profiles.

Environmental Issues

How do environmental concerns affect your planning for Horizon?

The industry as a whole is working really hard here. It’s not entirely an airline-operator issue totally, though there are some things the airlines can do as I noted. The real opportunities lie with the engine and airframe manufacturers, and there’s some great work going on in both camps. Pratt and Whitney is fielding a new “geared-turbofan” engine that promises significant reductions in consumption and emissions, and the work by Boeing and Airbus to lighten aircraft and make them more aerodynamic through composites will help. And then there’s biofuels — Boeing and Virgin Atlantic have launched a venture to test their applications to jets. At Alaska Air Group, we’re fortunate to have a relatively “green” fleet. The 737-800 has a significantly improved fuel-consumption rate compared with the MD-80s they are replacing. And the Q400 at Horizon is the best of them all on a per-passenger basis. It consumes far less fuel than anything we have on the fleet and leaves a far smaller carbon/noise footprint than any other aircraft. We think we’re well positioned to “do the right thing” as we go forward.

The notion of taking advantage of the adverse situation by raising prices didn’t hit the radar.

Unbundled Pricing

This might be a good spot to talk about the variable pricing. There is an industry trend toward unbundling of costs, where you pay for your meal and your movie. It seems this could extend into ways of managing environmental concerns. Is it your impression that the market is receiving the unbundling pretty well?

There seems to be good acceptance, since consumers are gaining control over the quality and the cost of the experience.

Do you see limits? Could you see yourself charging for the carry-on bag brought on the plane? Or if weight is such an important determinant, is their any discussion on ticket price variability based on the weight of the passenger?

[laughs] Weight is a consideration in fuel consumption, but we won’t be asking our customers to step on the scales anytime soon. You are seeing more weight limitations on baggage in the industry. Over the last few years the limit has gone from 75 pounds on some airlines down to 50, and it could go lower. United and a few others have addressed the situation by assessing a charge for the second bag, so that may be another solution as well. Given the condition our industry is in, everything is on the table. The models in Europe, Ryanair in particular, have gone to the extreme, where each bag and each service is charged. Skybus adopted most of that model here, where the cost of the ticket gets you a seat and a seatbelt and everything else is extra. [Editor’s note: Skybus ceased operations after this interview].

Others have gone beyond the services they provide in the things they sell. Ryanair sells travel insurance and all kinds of down-line products, including services at their destination cities. Their CEO (Michael O’Leary) has said that his ultimate vision is to get Ryanair to the point where they don’t have to charge for the ticket — where all the profit is made on the services they sell onboard. A lot of things are being looked at in these turbulent economic times.

Financial Challenges

I know that 2007 ended up being a difficult year for you financially. What were the main factors, and how does 2008 look?

Well, 2007 was a story of both anticipated and unanticipated events. On the anticipated front, we had embarked on a fleet consolidation program that was taking us from three fleet types to two. This involved subleasing and remarketing of some of our aircraft and required accounting treatments that expensed the difference of what those airplanes were on our books with the sublease price. So for each airplane that we subleased it was on an average $1 million to $1.5 million write down for each of 16 airplanes. We also had a significant “bubble” in scheduled maintenance events last year that added about $30 million dollars in expense over the year prior. So, a combination of those two things, the introduction of simplified pricing and the big bet that we would be able to take the extra capacity of the Q400s, stimulate the markets, get people off the roads, and on to the airplanes, maybe at lower yields, but improve profitability overall was anticipated.

Every time the price of crude oil changes a dollar per barrel, it shifts our expenses $10 million.

On the unanticipated side, the Q400 landing gear issue that we talked about was huge. The softening in the economy had some impacts on demand, and then there was fuel, of course. No one was forecasting fuel to do what it did last year or this year. On top of these, we experienced a huge increase in new competition, some of it coming from companies that were distressed and, accordingly, very aggressive with pricing. The combination of these things took us from our second most profitable year the year before, to a loss on an adjusted basis. If you just adjust out the sublease write downs, which in another time and place would have been special charge, it had us about break even, pretty close for the last year.

Our goals at both companies are to field business plans that hold the promise of generating returns that exceed our cost of capital. That is a high bar — something the airlines industry has never really done — but it is something most business are accountable to do for their stake holders: their debt providers and their equity investors. We work hard to run our two companies like they’re businesses, not just as good airlines relative to others in our sector.

Competition

In mentioning competition, you mentioned other airlines, but didn’t say anything about driving as a competitor. Now a shuttle is opened up on the corridor from Seattle to Portland, advertising it can get you door to door quicker than flying, because of security, etc. How do you look at this type of competition?

Competition comes in many flavors. On segments of 250 to 300 miles and under, the automobile is very much our primary competition. So is the train. And increasingly in the last five or six years, the technology of video conferencing has become a competitor. All this means that we have to work even harder to be valued and relevant. We have to stay focused on making sure the value preposition is well tuned to what we can do that others can’t do, and that it is in line with our customer’s needs. That gets us back to the quality of the customer’s experience, its dependability and the things that we have done to ensure consistency. The entire Horizon experience is tailored around our understanding of customer needs and aspirations.

It then comes down to execution. Everything — from ease of check in, to our “ala cart” easy-on/easy-off program, to the complimentary wines and microbrews — is centered in an understanding of what our customers need and want. If we provide that consistently, we should preserve our distinct competitive advantages.

We’re very aware that our customers are making promises to others based on the promises we’re making to them. We talk in new-hire training about how you can connect with this principle by simply being observant in a boarding area. The people aren’t there just to go on an airplane ride, which might have been true 50 years ago, but it’s what is on the other end that matters, whether its a family matter, a business deal, or a trip to Disneyland. We can’t forget that we’re an important means to an end for our customers.

About 15 years ago, when I was with Boeing, we did a study on what video conferencing would do to air travel and we actually found two contradictory results. One was that it would decrease air travel because people could substitute. The other was that it would increase air travel because it would build relationships through video teleconferencing and the Internet that would lead to a physical meeting. After a crisis, you could keep relationships going using technology, but ultimately you would want to travel again. And, of course, the capital investment of the airline sits on the ground during this time. Are you familiar with any more recent studies in this area?

I’ve seen a few surveys on usage of video conferencing and haven’t really seen huge uptick as of yet. Many companies haven’t yet made the investments in facilities or equipment that are needed. It isn’t clear that this is going to be a big threat to our business — it might actually have the effect of drawing people closer together.

And therefore they want to see each other.

We need to think about how we can be part of a blended experience here.

Company Culture

Your advertising is very humorous, particularly your parody of Lewis and Clark enjoying microbrews on your flights.

It’s Clark and Lewis! I think our ads are truly an expression of our core personality. When you’re doing it well, your messages are all aligned, and people know who you are. A bit of offbeat humor says we understand the travails of travel and we don’t take ourselves too seriously. This is how we were founded many years ago, and we try to express these core elements in all of our messages. Given our very low advertising budgets, we do most of this in-house, together with a wonderful group of freelance talent. Our marketing and communications director works with his loosely knit band of creative and media people to do the whole thing, and the execution is just terrific. It’s a lot of fun.

You had a pretty consistent culture coming out of 9/11. I may not have the dates exactly right, but somewhere in 2004, Horizon and Alaska had to do a significant labor cut, and it was a big hit. The financial analysis at that time suggested that this was both a financial issue, but also going to be a significant cultural issue. Were you involved in that, and did that in fact change the culture of the place?

Both Alaska and Horizon had cost problems to deal with, but I believe the events you’re referring to are Alaska’s outsourcing of their Seattle ramp services and heavy maintenance, the latter of which led to the closure of their Oakland hangar. As a member of the AAG executive committee, I was involved in the process leading to these and other decisions that were focused on reducing unit costs and restoring sufficient profitability to the company. Change of this magnitude is difficult and not without risk, yet it was clear in the post 9/11 environment that doing nothing would be even riskier.

Open communication is the lifeblood of a healthy culture.

Strong cultures are built on high levels of trust, and Alaska’s plan for communicating about and implementing these changes reflected their understanding of this. They fielded a host of transition and voluntary severance programs that were intended to mitigate impacts on individuals and the culture. Still, the impacts of lost jobs and, in the case of their pilots, pay cuts driven by an arbitration ruling, were very real and painful — cultural impacts in times of accelerated change are unavoidable. The remedies come over time through leadership that is consistent in its message, open and transparent, brutally honest about the situation, yet empathetic to the people affected, and decisive around the plan.

If you had been a mechanic or someone working for Horizon or Alaska before and after those events, would you say this feels like a different place, this is not the company I joined? Or would you say that the predominant cultural strengths were successful in carrying across that transition?

Certainly things are different, but I think most people measured these actions against the backdrop of the situation and our stated values. In other words, are they appropriate and scaled to the size of the problem, and do they reflect our values, including integrity, partnership, and continuous improvement? There’s no question that we’ve changed through these experiences, but most all these changes have served to stabilize and improve the company’s performance, and people are seeing that. It’s this improved performance that fuels what we’ve referred to as a “virtuous cycle” of improved experiences for employees, customers, and, ultimately, our shareholders. The point where one is positively affected by the change, then it becomes accepted and ultimately embraced.

I imagine that you can do everything right as an organization, but an individual within the organization whose whole industry is changed could easily say this is not as much fun, this is not satisfying.

Absolutely. A lot of people went through that process at all levels of the organization and many did choose to retool. One aspect of our business that I find most troubling is the fact that there are several professions — key technical roles like pilots and mechanics in particular — who by virtue of the seniority system, find themselves in very difficult spots later in their careers. They are highly skilled, well-trained, they have invested a lot in their careers in acquiring that skill. But they did not have transferrable opportunity because of the way the seniority system works. One of the biggest decisions they have to make as young professionals starting their career is which horse to ride out of the gate, because once they have signed on with a particular airline, their seniority begins to grow. At some point, they reach a tipping point where the economics of changing companies just doesn’t work out.

An old friend once told me that adversity doesn’t shape character — it reveals it.

For pilots, it comes sometime after they are upgraded to captain. Along with this added responsibility comes a significant pay increase. Unlike many other trades, a pilot’s seniority doesn’t transfer between companies. So the prospect of going anywhere else, whether by choice or as a function of your company going out of business, results in having to completely start over as new first officers at pay rates that are 20 to 25 percent of what they’d been making. Many decide they’re simply better off to leave their profession. That’s not a good outcome for anyone. They’re drawn to the profession because of their love for flying, and their ability to combine their skill with good command and control decisions to produce good outcomes (safe, comfortable flight experiences). However, when it comes to their company’s financial performance, they often lose that sense of control as they realize their jobs are only as secure as the company they work for. They have transferable skills, to be sure, but because of the way the seniority system works, they don’t have transferable opportunity. No one needs our airline to work well over the long term as much as those of our people who are in this situation. Understanding this is really key to how we approach working with and communicating with our people during these challenging times.

For example, we have a full-day workshop for our captains called Command Recognition. Once a month, we invite 12 to 15 captains to spend a whole day with me and other company officers just talking about our industry and our company, our strategies, our books, our performance, rumors, etc. It’s a complete open book on the whole business and anything they’d like to talk about around it. Anything that is legal to discuss, we talk about.

In a lot of industries there is cost-control pressure at the rank-and-file level, while your senior officers’ salaries continue to rise. If I went to your captains or your mechanics and asked if everybody is sharing the pain, what sort of answer do you think I would get?

I believe Alaska Air Group’s story here is a good one, largely because of the exemplary leadership of our chairman in personally setting the tone and the work our board compensation committee has done to develop structures that aligned with our values and that reward performance. Generally speaking, the board has set base-salary levels at levels that are low compared to market, with the opportunity to achieve “target” levels residing in the achievement of performance goals that range from safety to customer satisfaction, operational performance, and profitability. The higher the position, the more of the pay associated with the position is ”at risk.” Our proxy statement goes to great lengths to outline the philosophy and practices of the board in setting these structures, and we’re working to build even more alignment across workgroups going forward. I know there has certainly been a fair criticism within our industry, and in the case of some airlines with executive-comp structures that result in internal misalignment, it’s probably well deserved. We’ve worked hard to avoid that outcome with structures that are very transparent and aligned with the achievement of our shared goals and a lot of candid communication on the subject.

I understand Singapore Airlines has addressed this cost issue for the flight attendants by making the flight-attendant position a five-year position as opposed to a career. All their flight attends are young and therefore paid less because of less experience. They have identified that as a position where a salary shouldn’t grow forever. Have you ever considered that kind of a structure?

It’s an interesting approach, but not one that’s ever been on our radar for a variety of reasons. First and foremost is the reputation our senior flight attendants have for delivering extraordinary service. They’re the ones who’ve really written our good story over the years — their seasoned, caring, and genuine approach has become synonymous with our brand. For those of this group who’ve chosen to make this a career, the rest of us have been the beneficiaries. Beyond this, I’d think that the labor and employment law forces against such a structure in the United States would be significant, if not outright prohibitive, for any airline that might consider such a strategy.

What part of your effort goes to supporting the culture in your organization and what specifically do you do?

A safety culture is dependent on wide-open communication and sharing of findings by everyone involved in the operation.

I’d say that most all of what I do touches on this because everything requires open communication, which we think is the lifeblood of a healthy culture. Communication takes many forms: informational, directional, inspirational, and correctional among them. But through them all, we’re engaged in drawing attention to what’s important, what’s working, and those who are making it work while raising the level of people’s understanding and engagement with their company. Much of my day revolves around these activities. For example, last Friday I was working on scripts for an online communication that will reach everybody. I also met with the a dozen pilots in the Command Recognition workshop I mentioned earlier. Then I had a “Java with Jeff” session with our maintenance and engineering folks. Just the process of traveling to and from Portland for the day allowed me to have brief but substantive conversations with 30 to 40 of our people — from the ticket counter to the security checkpoints to the cockpit.

Were you seen in your role as CEO, or anonymously?

With a company our size, and with my having been in this role a long time, there’s nothing anonymous about it. Thankfully, we work hard to keep things on a first name basis and preserve those things that are good about being small. We talk about how every job at Horizon is critically important to the outcome, no one more than the other, that they’re all just different and complementary in ways that are reflected in titles and levels of responsibility. This fosters mutual respect across work groups and levels, which is a key ingredient of a healthy culture. Of course, because we’re human, this is an aspiration that we’ll never perfectly arrive at, but when we talk about Horizon at its best, it is one of the things you see.

Mentors

Tell me about your mentors.

I’ve been really fortunate in my career in this area, having had a mix of family, friends, and professional mentors whose influence and counsel have really shaped me. Some took me under their wing on their own initiative, and others I sought out. One was stuck with me from the beginning — my dad! All have been a blessing to me and my family.

P.S.

Since the interview, there has been a lot of concern about the way the FAA inspects airlines. Could you comment on this?

Everyone understands that the FAA is charged with oversight and that there’s a direct link between safety and compliance. However, inspectors can’t be everywhere all the time — a safety culture is dependent on wide-open communication and sharing of findings by everyone involved in the operation. In this current, politically charged situation, the risk would be that Congress and regulators react in a way that constrains or shuts down this vital flow of reporting information, thereby undermining the very thing they’re trying to enhance. While good audit practices must prevail, so must the reporting cultures that FAA depends on to ensure the highest levels of safety.

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