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It’s been quite awhile since my last Cranky Flier Interview, and I’m glad to finally have another one ready to go for you.
On this episode, I talk to Joe Sprague, President of Alaska’s wholly-owned regional Horizon Air. Joe, you may recall, was with Alaska Airlines previously — he accompanied me on my Milk Run adventure back in 2017 — but he left the company and only came back in late 2019 to run Horizon.
Talk about perfect timing to start running a regional airline… yeesh.
Joe and I talked about all the issues facing regionals, and how Horizon has worked through them. You can find the episode on all the regular podcast providers, or you can just listen here:
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The most astonishing thing here is that Alaska mainline didn’t comprehend they’d have a staffing issue at Horizon until September 2021. The shortage was assured as soon as several years worth of pilots retired in a single month. Everyone knew the majors would need replacements in place for Summer 22, so it was pretty easy to predict Fall 21 as a time of critical attrition.
I’m not sure I understand the purpose for Horizon or any wholly-owned to continue to exist. They no longer have significantly lower labor costs, they don’t distribute risk to other entities, they don’t access other sources of capital, and in this market they can’t be whipsawed against other carriers. But they do bring several unique problems, like artificial constraints on capacity, inability to buy the newest generation aircraft, and operational unreliability due to attrition of the most experienced personnel. Absorbing then into mainline feels inevitable, and the first mover probably gets a rocking deal on -E2s to help justify it.