After a year of turmoil at Horizon Air, the local regional carrier that’s part of Alaska Air Group, the airline’s Chief Executive Dave Campbell announced Monday that he’s stepping down.
Campbell conveyed the news internally via an email to employees Monday.
“As the year comes to a close, I have found myself at a crossroads,” Campbell wrote. “For personal reasons, I have decided to step down from my role with Horizon effective Jan. 5, opening the door for a new chapter for the airline.”
His departure comes after a troubled year for Horizon that saw thousands of canceled flights due to a pilot shortage.
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The airline had to slash its schedule in the fall, with Alaska Air handing the routes that Horizon dropped either to mainline carrier Alaska Airlines or to contract regional carrier SkyWest, a Horizon competitor.
It also suspended deliveries of the new Embraer E175 jets that had been ordered as part of a plan to expand the airline.
Horizon’s operational performance on the reduced flight schedule began to stabilize only last month. Campbell recently announced internally that deliveries of the E175s will resume in March.
In his farewell message, he chose to emphasize that upturn in fortunes.
“After a couple of months of positive momentum, I feel like I’m leaving Horizon at a good time with a bright future,” Campbell wrote.
However the airline’s future remains on a knife’s edge with many employees worried that it may not survive.
In a message to staff last week, Campbell noted that in a recent internal survey of Horizon employees, “the overwhelming theme of the survey was a great deal of uncertainty about the future of Horizon.”
Pilot hiring challenge
Pilot hiring and training have progressed, with 278 pilots hired so far against a goal of adding 670 pilots by the end of next year to meet the planned flight schedules.
However, it’ll be a tremendous challenge to meet that target.
Horizon has just over 700 pilots in total today. And other regional carriers keep leapfrogging each other in the new-hire salaries offered to attract young pilots.
Last month, Endeavor Air, a regional-carrier subsidiary of Delta Air Lines, signed a new contract that pushed pay for new pilots higher than at Horizon.
In a new effort to attract and retain pilots at Horizon, management separately announced Monday a new program setting up an easier career path for Horizon pilots to move up to the better-paid jobs at Alaska Airlines.
Pilots joining the program will be offered the opportunity to interview with Alaska early in their career at Horizon, regardless of flight time or experience.
When Alaska has openings, it will hire without any additional interviews from a pool of experienced Horizon pilots in the program whose record at the regional carrier is sufficiently good, with offers based on seniority.
Distracted by Virgin
Despite all the trouble this year, Campbell is personally admired even by many longtime Horizon pilots who are most critical of management.
Several pilots, speaking on condition of anonymity, instead blamed Alaska Air management for not providing Campbell and Horizon the resources and attention it required.
Since the acquisition of Virgin America in 2016, management has had to focus heavily on the integration of that California-based airline with Alaska Airlines, leaving less energy to deal with Horizon’s problems, pilots said.
On Monday, Brad Tilden, chief executive of Alaska Air, issued a statement praising Campbell, noting that his placement of the order for 33 new Embraer E-175 jets was designed to make a major transition for the regional airline toward future growth.
“I want to thank Dave for being a very honorable leader, and for working so hard for Horizon,” Tilden wrote.
Campbell joined Horizon from JetBlue three years ago.
Tilden said Alaska Air will immediately begin a search for a replacement CEO for Horizon.