New Skywest chief pilot sets high-altitude course

NEW schedules involving jet aircraft flights to Karratha connecting with smaller aircraft to open up WA’s north-west could be on the agenda for Skywest under new CEO Scott Henderson.

Mr Henderson begins a rolling 12-month contract on October 23 with plans to pilot the airline for up to five years.

Other things on his to-do list include meeting Skywest’s “regional constituency”, reintroducing frequent flyer points and working with inbound airlines to develop better interconnecting services to WA’s regions.

Skywest, an airline that has traditionally used turbo prop planes, had leased a Fokker 100 jet to service its Argyle Diamond Mine contract.

“The issue then becomes where else can we fly the jet to,” Mr Henderson said.

“What opportunities do we have to create mini-hubs in other areas? We could open up more areas with smaller aircraft – maybe in the north-west.”

Mr Henderson said his first goal for Skywest would be to secure a profit for this financial year.

“I think there are opportunities to turn a great airline into a great business,” he said.

“The challenge is to unlock the inherent value in this business for shareholders.

“My role is to ensure we have the right aircraft, the right schedules and the right routes.

“WA is a strong export State and inbound tourism is an export opportunity. If we can get that side of things together we’ll get a lot of bang for our buck.”

Mr Henderson’s airline experience includes time as United Airlines State manager Victoria, where he was responsible for developing the airline’s business activities in that State and driving projects throughout Australia and the Pacific south division.

“My role with United was to work with Ansett and other Star Alliance partners to beat Qantas,” he said.

“United was the first airline to announce a non-stop flight from Melbourne to the west coast of the US.”

That success – he also helped the airline achieve a 50 per cent growth in corporate sales – resulted in Mr Henderson being seconded to United’s Chicago headquarters.

“The interesting thing is Skywest has the same issues as an airline such as United.”

Mr Henderson said the airline industry had taken a big hit post September 11 but felt there was more confidence now.

“The key thing is the regions and that is Skywest’s focus,” he said.

“There is a synergy for us to work with tour operators for tourism flights. As we get that in place, business travel will grow.”

Indeed, increasing flights to some areas is part of his plan.

“In my view we should be flying to more places more often,” Mr Henderson said.

“We need to consider how we bundle our deals, for example, including rent-a-car packages.

“When I worked for United Airlines in Victoria I looked at ways to package Philip Island for tourists.

“I’ll be working with other airlines to make sure we have the right connections for their inbound flights.”

Mr Henderson would not be drawn on the prospect of further competition for Skywest.

The WA Government has opened the door for another airline to compete on the Perth-Geraldton route.

“I’ve never worked in a monopoly market,” Mr Henderson said.

“My challenge is to make sure the airline is structured to handle competition. At the moment we compete with bus lines and people who drive themselves.”

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