Alaska Air Group announced new management for its troubled regional unit, Horizon Air.
Gary Beck will be Horizon Air's new president and CEO, with Constance von Muehlen becoming chief operating officer.
Beck has led a joint Alaska Airlines/Virgin America integration team for the past 18 months. He was Alaska Airline's vice president of flight operations from 2008 to 2015, overseeing 1,600 pilots in Alaska, California and Washington. During that period he instituted the use of a paperless flight deck, including iPads.
"Gary earned the trust of his team and built a strong culture, implemented sound operational processes and invested wisely in technology," said Brad Tilden, chairman and CEO of Alaska Air Group, in a statement. "He is a seasoned leader with a tremendous amount of fire in his belly."
Given Horizon's struggles during the past year, that will be an important attribute.
Former Horizon CEO Dave Campbell stepped down at the end of 2017, a year in which Horizon saw thousands of canceled flights and route abandonment due to a pilot shortage. The airline slashed schedules, forcing the parent company to use mainline carrier Alaska Airlines or contract with regional carrier SkyWest, a Horizon competitor, to pick up the slack.
Horizon also suspended delivery of regional Embraer E175 jets that had been part of the airline's expansion plan.
"Horizon Air completely miscalculated the effects of the nationwide pilot shortage, and its reaction to the shortage was by far the worst of any regional airline in the United States," said Alan Bender, an Ashland resident and aeronautics professor in the College of Arts and Sciences at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Worldwide in Daytona Beach, Florida.
"No other large regional airline miscalculated to the extent Horizon did," Bender said. "Horizon had to make wholesale cuts to their schedules last year, and this inconvenienced countless thousands of customers who had already purchased tickets. Here in the Rogue Valley, we lost a vital link to Los Angeles that many, many people depend on for both local trips as well as for connections to Mexico and beyond."
The loss was mitigated, he said, by American and Allegiant flights, and United is slated to begin service later this year. But Horizon's mismanagement hurt Alaska's performance as well.
"Horizon’s management had to be replaced," Bender said. "Whereas at one time Horizon Air was America’s model regional airline, it has deteriorated into a liability to both Alaska Air Group and to airline passengers throughout the Pacific Northwest."
Just this week, Delta unseated Alaska Airlines as the top carrier in the annual Wall Street Journal ranking of eight major U.S. airlines, based on information by the U.S. Transportation Department and masFlight, the data analytics unit of Global Eagle.
After four years at the top, the airline was hit hard by West Coast storms and problems at Horizon.
Alaska’s on-time rate dropped below that of United, the Journal reported.
"There are a lot of positive things happening at Horizon Air," Tilden said, "including the introduction of new E-175 jets, and a new pilot training and career development program."
— Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness or www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.