WALKER BUNCH – PART THREE!
September 1986 was the demise of our beloved Frontier Airlines. It’s employees blown to the four winds. It was an extremely sad time especially after all the sacrifices we employees made in trying to save a FIRST-RATE little airline.
Even with all the pain and uncertainty, the FLamily, as Jake Lamkins monikered us, stayed surprisingly together as a proud alumni. Sure, some went to other airlines, some went into other endeavors, some even went to the new Frontier albeit the “new Frontier,” in reality, is not related to the old historic Frontier other than in name only.
Hank Lund and a few others (including my pal, Dave Kaplan) formed the new Denver-based airline. They acquired the Frontier name from Continental, the airline that acquired Frontier out of bankruptcy in 1986. It would, could, never be the same. The old Frontier was truly a very special place. It was a way of life.
Billy with Hank at a FLamily Reunion in 2011 just two years later Hank was gone at age 91
Thanks to the efforts of Jake Lamkins, we’ve been able to hold onto our past. His efforts in keeping us in touch have been Herculean. He’s produced a newsletter along with an amazingly comprehensive website.
Jake and his princess, daughter JJ
Jake has curated a museum housing Frontier memorabilia in Fayetteville, Arkansas, a former Frontier station. Visiting Jake is on Cheryl’s and my bucket list.
Jake had spent a tour in the USAF before hiring on with Central Airlines. In the USAF, Jake was a transportation specialist; a perfect fit for someone moving into the civilian transportation industry.
Central was merged into Frontier in 1967 shortly after I came with Frontier. Jake was a well-known and popular station agent at several FAL stations througout his career. I met Jake initially when he was at the Jackson Hole station, my favorite stop on the Frontier route system.
Jake became the ALEA representative. In those days ALEA was an acronym for the Airline Customer Service Employee Association. Even after Jake’s tenure, he stayed active doing all he could to help save Frontier.
Throughout, Jake has been THE stalwart in keeping the FLamily together. KUDOS Jake!
CAPTAIN RUEBEN ACE AVAKIAN
Before Ace Avakian had “Gone West” in 2011 at age 85, he had been the mainstay keeping the Frontier pilots in touch with each other. Ace had retied Number One in seniority with more years in service than any other Frontier pilot. He was legendary.
Ace and Jim Hansen ran “FARPA,” the Denver-based Frontier Airlines Retired Pilots Association. Ace published a newsletter. Great stuff! Ace should have written a book. He was the consummate story teller.
Incidentally, Ace was his real name. Be sure to read Ace’s resumé:
Ace’s brother-in-law, Captain Jimmy Dean Appleby, used to call Ace an Armenian Rug Pedler in a kidding slur to Ace’s heritage. Fortunately, for Ace and for us, Ace’s ancestors escaped the horrible holocaust in Armenia. The Ottoman government systematically exterminated a million and a half citizens within the Ottoman Empire and is successor state, Turkey. This genocide occurred over a two year period between 1915 and 1917.
During my co-pilot days I was, as previously mentioned, fortunate to have flown with some absolutely great aviators. We had aviators but many were just pilots. Ace was one who could define the difference.
Of the many aviators I flew with, I failed to capture an opportunity to fly with Ace during those golden years of Frontier’s storied existence. September 11, 2001, that fateful day, Ace and I finally shared the flight deck although he was along as an observer. That place and time became a gripping and poignant story which still grabs me deep!
Once again, I’m gettin’ ahead of myself although this seems like a good place for an “Ace” story! Look at the end of Walker Bunch – Part Two for more on the start-up of JetBlue Airlines. Also, check out the 9/11 story itself (Page 2).
I was in Toulouse France on 9/11. I had just completed a flight test on a new A-320 for JetBlue. There was a message for me to call the company president, Dave Barger. This was unusual.
I returned Dave’s call. He said they were looking at a situation in New York that, while not definitive, was a concern. He wanted us to be extra vigilant. I sorta shrugged it off until he called back with more information which was still before the towers collapsed. By then we knew two large transport aircraft had struck the Twin Towers. Boy Howdy! …we knew!
No longer shrugging it off, we decided to head back to our hotel to find our wives who had gone shopping. At that point we knew the Towers were down. We realized that it was important for us to be together right away.
My co-pilot was Bill Brown, another JetBlue captain. We had flown together at good ol’ Frontier. His wife, Donna, was along. She had been a Sr. Agent with Frontier and then became a flight attendant with Northwest. My wife, Cheryl, of course was along. She was a former FAL stew as well as was Janet Avakian. Cheryl would accompany me on 36 of 77 North Atlantic crossings. As you might have surmised we had invited two more former FAL folks along. Ace and Janet Avakian were with us. Up to this point, we were enjoying a marvelous trip.
ACE – BILL- DONNA – JANET – CHERYL in Toulouse France 2001
Ace – Billy – Bill – post flight Toulouse France 9/11/2001
A “selfie” over the North Atlantic with Ace and Janet Avakian
Somehow it just wasn’t right to take a photo of Captain Avakian in any other seat…
This photo was taken as we passed just south of the tip of Greenland 9/14/01
Driving to the hotel we passed the Algerian Embassy. Across the street was a large store that catered to Americans. There were two large Stars and Stripes on flag poles at the doorway of the store.
Ace, Bill, and I got back to the hotel, but the girls had not returned yet. We were about to go looking for them when here they came. We turned on CNN and saw the devastation but with no US feed. It was being broadcast from Italy!
We decided to walk over to another hotel we used a lot for our delivery flights. We were able to watch all this tragedy unfold and hear the broadcast in English. We stayed tuned until 3AM!
The next day, I decided to go back to the airfield to see about the rest of our paperwork and to see if there would be any prospects for flying back to the US. Air transportation world-wide had been shut down except for military flights.
On the way back to the hotel the 12th, as we passed the Algerian Embassy we noticed the two large US flags no longer marked the entrance of the business across the street.
Finally, on the 13th we learned we could likely get a clearance to Iceland. So, we determined that it would be a good idea to start that way and, if need be, could stay in Reykjavik near Keflavik where we usually stopped for fuel. We took the extra step and secured hotel reservations for everyone.
On the way back to the hotel the next day, on the 13th, EVERY place along the avenue, including the Algerians, displayed our Stars and Stripes! WOW!
We put out the word that anyone with US passports would be welcomed aboard on a first-come basis, resulting with the plane nearly full for our departure the 14th.
Friday morning, September 14, 2001, we pushed from the hard-stand at Toulouse. Suddenly, our French friends at Airbus’ delivery center unfurled a HUGE American flag down the side of the delivery center. I later discovered it was Joël Rembert, one of the flight test engineers who planned this special moment.
Man, that really got to me. I had to stop the push and gather myself. Ace, with his ever present camera caught a photo. Momentarily, I picked up the PA and announced “Those of you on the right side of the aircraft might want to look out at something very special.” …we heard a loud cheer then silence.
Cheryl and Janet later exclaimed, “there was not a single dry-eye on board.” Many of our passengers had family, friends, or relatives in the Towers. No one knew what the tower inhabitants situation was. It was, as you might well imagine, a very emotional flight. It was, by far, the most I had experienced in my 40 years with the airlines. …and I will never participate in bashing the French!
We arrived in Keflavik. I told our passengers to stay close as we might get an additional clearance to Canada. Actually, we were surprised with a clearance all the way to JFK with the proviso of needing two alternates since JFK was closed and, still, the US ATC system was shut down. We expected to be stopped at Goose Bay or Gander. Halifax was loaded to the gills with diverted airliners.
Over Newfoundland we learned that we would be able to enter US airspace after all. In contact with US ATC, we crossed Boston and were reminded what had occurred there a couple hundred years earlier and that we may be facing a new kind of threat to our freedom from radical Islamic terrorists.
N-503JB Saluting The Twin Towers December 1999
…had we known!
Stewart AFB and Islip were named as our alternates since JFK was still closed. However, when we were handed off to JFK approach we learned that we were to be the first airplane to land at JFK since 9/11.
Bill Brown was flying as we descended from a 400′ overcast. Ace missed an unbelievable opportunity as the sun was setting exactly behind the smoking ruins of the Twin Towers. The setting sun shining thru the smoke created a parallax that took the shape of a cross. Amazingly breathtaking!
It was bizarre landing at JFK seeing no ground traffic and no other airplanes moving. It was morgue-like.
We had to wait for nearly two hours for US Customs to arrive to clear us thru. We had sent our APIS documentation on departure from France. But someone neglected to let Customs know JFK was open and that we were inbound. The APIS (advance passenger information system) form is required to be present to the US Customs point of entry for each international flight. APIS is designed to enhance border security by providing officers with pre-arrival and departure manifest data on all passengers and crew members
Finally, we headed from the international terminal to the JetBlue terminal. Cheryl and I had an apartment in Kew Gardens (Queens) not far from JFK. We assumed we would stay there as it didn’t look like getting home to PHX would be an option. We arranged for Ace and Janet to ride on JetBlue to Denver and they would be able to leave in just a couple of hours. JetBlue was not yet flying to PHX in 2001.
I spotted a couple of America West crews that I had trained in my past life. They said they were there to transfer two A-320’s to PHX. I asked if we could go and Captain Ehrhard said “sure!” However, the station manager quickly nixed that.
AWA Captain Doug Ehrhard & F/O Chris Durban
The captain, Doug Ehrhard, got on his cell phone to the AWA VP of Flight Ops, Joe Chronic. Doug explained the issue and, at Joe’s request, put the manager on the phone. Next thing we knew we were heading back to our home in PHX riding first-class in our own private jet along with Doug’s pretty wife to keep us company.
9/11 is a day in infamy and one we can not avoid to recall in the greatest of detail. It was such a sad event, but there were some plus,’ among which the sharing of a strong emotional event between six former Frontier family members is at the top. …and Doug’s bringing us the rest of the way home another. Some things are simply unforgettable…
9/11 is like the 1941 “Day in Infamy” it will always remain unforgettable to everyone in America and even beyond.
Soon after 9/11, a dreaded day arrived. It was 9/29/01. It was to be my last trip as an airline captain I would turn sixty at midnight.
Beginning in 1959 and lasting nearly six decades, any airline pilot reaching the tender young age of sixty, he/she was forced to retire! Pilots who flew for airlines with flight engineer positions on some airplanes could down-bid into those positions as an option.
In November, 2006, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) revised the maximum age for certain pilots in international operations from age 60 to age 65. Until December 13, 2007, the United States, an ICAO member state, limited its pilots operating under Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) part 121 to age 60. Now those pilots may continue until age 65, as specified in the Act.
After my forced retirement, the Federal Air Regulations changed allowing pilots to remain in their captain’s seats another five years. This change came about by the strenuous efforts of a number of pilots both former such as myself and those still flying albeit facing the grim prospects of unemployment before they could even draw social security. #%^*(##@)!!! FAA kicked me outta my favorite chair and my Dream Job!
It was wrong-headed then and it is still so. There never should have been such a diabolical rule. It was, in fact a rule born out of political shenanigans! The “rule” came about when American Airlines CEO, C.R. Smith finagled his WWII pal, Elwood “Pete” Quesada the new head of the FAA, into implementing an across-the-board change forcing senior pilots to retire solely because of their age. That was back in 1959.
There were no studies proving age sixty was the magic age where mental and physical capabilities diminish and that air safety would be enhanced by putting this nonsense into law. By the stroke of Quesada’s pen the onerous “Age 60 Rule” went into effect.
Federal Aviation Regulations Part 121.383(c)–No certificate holder may use the services of any person as a pilot on an airplane engaged in operations under this part if that person has reached his 60th birthday. No person may serve as a pilot on an airplane engaged in operations under this part if that person has reached his 60th birthday.
This must have been a gleeful moment for Cyrus Rowlett “C. R.” Smith (September 9, 1899 – April 4, 1990). A stroke of a pen and his highest paid pilots were put to pasture. The hell with the public’s losing their most experienced and mature pilots. …and for NO good reason!
If you are one of the many who find’s a need to properly pay your respects here’s where these two stained characters are :
I know of several of the captains I flew with at the old historic Frontier Airlines who made a pilgrimage just to add some moisture to these two grave sites.
Then and now, all pilots were/are required to be examined by a qualified FAA approved AME (Aero Medical Examiner) every six months for captains; every twelve months for a first officer. Additionally, each captain must undergo intensive training in a full motion flight simulator every six months for captains; every twelve months for first officers. On top of all that both captains and first officers are required to complete a reoccurring ground school annually. …and there’s more! Airline crews are subject to random checks by the FAA and company check-airmen.
One theory suggests that, while previous attempts had been made to institute an age-specific retirement rule, a 1958 labor dispute between pilots of American Airlines, then represented by ALPA, and the company’s chief executive, C.R. Smith, may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back and provided the final impetus to implement the current regulation.
On Jan. 15, 1958, ALPA signed its first jet contract with National Airlines in anticipation of the airline adding DC-8s to its fleet. It was the dawn of the jet age, and airlines were scrambling to replace their piston-driven aircraft with jets and turboprops. Many airline managements propagated the idea that older airline pilots might not be able to adapt to the physical and mental demands of flying at higher altitudes in faster, more sophisticated airliners.
But airline managements had another not-so-public reason for declaring their concern for an aging pilot population. They wanted to get their jet operations up and running quickly. A fresh supply of young aviators who had received jet training in the military was already available, and airline managers knew that they could save considerable time and expense by recruiting these younger pilots instead of having to train their older, more senior pilots.
In the April 1959 issue of Air Line Pilot, ALPA reported that Capt. Deke DeLong, “the nation’s oldest airline pilot,” had retired from Northwest Airlines at the considerable age of 65. That same year, the FAA estimated that approximately 40 active airline pilots were over the age of 60. Aviation was still relatively young, and so was the majority of its pilots. But the number of pilots over the age of 60 was expected to surge in the years to come.
At the time, no government regulation prohibited airlines from using pilots past a certain age, but several airlines sought to impose their own mandatory-retirement policies, predominately at age 60. Western Airlines, TWA, and American Airlines all tried to retire pilots based on age, but pilots of each of the airlines brought grievances to resist these policies. In each of these cases, an arbitrator ruled in favor of the pilots.
In the grievance brought on behalf of Western Airlines pilots, the arbitrator wrote in his decision: “There is no testimonial basis and no ‘fact of life’ on which we could be expected to take a kind of ‘judicial notice’ that supports the view that it is unsafe to let a pilot perform after the age of 60. That is not to say that there is not some age–say 90–when we would take judicial notice of physical impairment beyond all reason. It is enough to say that the evidence here does not support the theory that the attainment of age 60 is in itself enough to disqualify a pilot.”
The pilots of Western and TWA went back to work. But American Airlines refused to comply with the binding arbitration. American’s C.R. Smith chose to ignore the ruling and continued to enforce his company’s mandatory-retirement policy. The carrier’s disregard for the arbitrator’s decision was just one of many issues that led to a 20-day pilot strike that began Dec. 20, 1958.
Only a month earlier, Smith had appeared on the cover of Time magazine, which heralded him as the father of commercial jet travel. Less than 2 months later, American would be the first airline to provide permanent transcontinental jet service. But the threat to Smith’s plan to retire his older pilots would hinder American’s ability to aggressively expand its jet operations.
The three men who brought the grievance at American–Capts. Robert J. Rentz, Ernie A. Cutrell, and James H. Burns–were no ordinary pilots. They were veteran flyers who had attained legendary status in the piloting community and had earned the respect of their peers.
Capt. Rentz had already acquired many thousands of hours in the air when he left airline flying during World War II to serve as commander of the Army’s 1st Combat Cargo Group. He flew supplies, equipment, and personnel during campaigns in China, India, and Burma before returning to his airline job after the war.
Capt. Cutrell was a pioneer in instrument flying and blind-landing experiments. In 1946, he was presented the Chanute Flight Test Award for his contribution to aerospace sciences, an honor given to Howard Hughes just a few years earlier. In 1957, Capt. Cutrell became the first recipient of the ALPA Air Safety Award for his work on runway approach lighting. He was also a mentor to a young Ernest K. Gann, who paid homage to him in Fate is the Hunter, Gann’s classic 1961 book about his own experiences as an airline pilot.
Capt. Burns, the oldest of the three, was a charter member of ALPA and had been one of Dave Behncke’s key men during the Association’s early days. To protect him from anti-union retaliation, Capt. Burns was referred to as Mr. I in the Association’s founding documents. On Dec. 27, 1931, he and 12 other men met secretly in a room at the Morrison Hotel in Chicago, Ill., to form an alliance to protect their fellow pilots from oppressive airline managements, advocate for safety, and uphold the honor of the airline piloting profession.
Such was the caliber of the men that C.R. Smith now sought to expel from the profession–a profession to which they had given so much. Indeed, these three men embodied the hard-earned experience, the dedication to safety, and the fierce loyalty to their fellow pilots on which the profession was built. Men such as these defined what it meant to be a line pilot.
On Jan. 10, 1959, to bring an end to the costly strike, Smith gave in to many of the union’s demands. As a part of the strike settlement, Smith agreed to reinstate the three captains. But after the strike ended, he delayed the promised reinstatement.
Only a few months before the strike’s end, Congress had created the Federal Aviation Agency. President Eisenhower appointed retired Air Force Lieutenant General Elwood “Pete” Quesada to head the new agency. As fate would have it, Smith and Quesada were old buddies from their military days. During World War II, Smith had temporarily left his position at American and joined the Army Air Force, rising to the rank of major general. He was instrumental in organizing the U.S. Air Transport Command and served for a time as its deputy commander. During this time, Smith and Quesada got to know each other well.
In a Feb. 5, 1959 letter, Smith wrote privately to Quesada, suggesting that it might be necessary for the FAA to designate a suitable age for retirement. Shortly thereafter, Smith also sent a letter to ALPA’s then-president Clarence Sayen, asking for ALPA’s help in persuading the FAA to establish a mandatory retirement age for pilots. Sayen refused, saying that the Association would abide by the System Board of Adjustment’s decision in favor of the pilots and that he would urge Capts. Burns, Rentz, and Cutrell to report to the company for service.
Smith, to make his case within the FAA for a mandatory retirement age, produced his own study of American Airlines pilots, which indicated that younger pilots required less training time to make the transition from propeller to jet airliners.
Quesada responded with two proposals that would establish a maximum age of 55 for pilots to receive a type rating in turbojet aircraft, and a mandatory retirement age of 60 for all airline pilots.
Quesada convened a panel of experts to review the proposals. The panel supported the mandatory-retirement recommendation, although it eventually decided against an age-55 turbojet type rating limitation. Later, when Smith’s study was presented to legal counsel for review, FAA lawyers recommended that Smith’s study of the American Airlines pilots be abandoned. The legal team recommended instead that, to strengthen its position, the FAA base its justification of the rule solely on medical criteria as opposed to training performance.
Considering the slow movement that has become the norm in recent years for most government regulatory agency bureaucracies, the speed at which the rule was developed and implemented was remarkable. Within 2 weeks of Smith’s private appeal to Quesada, the FAA had already drafted a medical justification for the rule. A notice of proposed rulemaking was published within a matter of months.
The final rule was published in the Federal Register on Dec. 5, 1959, only 10 months to the day from C.R. Smith’s first appeal to Quesada.
The regulation became effective on March 15, 1960, forcing Capts. Rentz, Cutrell, and Burns into retirement once and for all.
ALPA fought to overturn the rule for more than 20 years, taking the position that mandatory retirement should be based on a pilot’s actual mental and physical capabilities rather than an arbitrary age. (an issue of Air Line Pilot magazine will cover ALPA’s struggles in the late 1970s and early 1980s, as the union dealt with the consequences of the FAA’s intransigence regarding its Age 60 rule and voted to support it in view of its relevance to contract items such as retirement benefits.)
Little is known about what became of Capts. Rentz and Burns after their airline days had come to an end, but Capt. Cutrell continued to fly for many years afterward. He qualified on B-52s and KC-135 tankers at Castle Air Force Base, Calif., in a transition course for Air Force Reserve officers–a testament to the fact that some pilots can indeed fly beyond age 60, including flying jets.
While no direct evidence suggests any impropriety in the connection between C.R. Smith and Elwood Quesada, those opposed to the Age 60 rule remain suspicious of the relationship. They note that nearly a year after the rule went into effect, and shortly after Quesada retired from his post as Administrator of the FAA, he was elected to a seat on the American Airlines’ Board of Directors.
THIS ABSOLUTELY WRONG-HEADED GOVERNMENT ACTION finally improved some. As I touched on earlier, the Age 65 Rule replaced the Age 60 Rule on December 13, 2007 when the President signed it into law. That Act is recorded as Public Law 110-135.
Granted, this was an improvement, but still a totally wrong-headed farcical government interference with a profession already over-governed. The following is a great story. There are many such stories.
My pal, Captain Doug Bader, was vice-chairman of the Frontier pilots Master Executive Council. He was indispensable! There were countless examples where his presence proved to be a positive part of an imaginable trying time during the final years of Frontier.
After the FAL demise, Doug went with America West Airlines and, soon after, with Continental to take advantage of his contractural position there. It didn’t take long for Continental to recognize Doug’s talents.
Doug served Continental in a number of important positions including being chief pilot of the Denver domicile. He proved to be an excellent instructor and joined the new Boeing 777 training team. Then age sixty loomed large.
Doug flew his magnificent “Tripple Seven” on his final flight. His family was on board as he headed the big airplane across the Atlantic. One family member sat with him on the flight deck! His daughter, Megan, sat in the right seat as his first officer!
They enjoyed a wonderful flight arriving back at their Houston base taxiing past fire trucks arching a welcoming spray of water over the airplane. Doug thought his career was finished.
Then, he would learn that while he was gone, the Age 60 Rule became the Age 65 Rule. “Hey!” Doug thought, “I’m back in business!” And he was.
Five years later, Doug flew his farewell flight again. Once again he had his family on board. Megan, now a captain, was his first officer. Cheryl and I were along for what promised to be a marvelous farewell flight. We would not be disappointed.
Doug would be on the same airplane too! That magnificent Boeing 777 with one difference, it was now painted in United Airlines livery. Aviation is a really crazy business!
After a few glorious days in London, we arrived back in Houston to be greeted a second time by fire trucks launching arcing streams of water over Captain Bader’s parking this final time. There would be no reprieve this time.
Former America West captain, Russ Gilmore, experienced much the same. He flew his last flight at age fifty nine three hundred sixty four days only to learn he would be able to enjoy another five years of “Living the Dream.”
Russ is now a captain for International Air Response flying C-130s (L-100s). Four-engine turboprops flying world-wide is no problem for Russ who also flies the Boeing B-17, North American B-25, and other ubiquitous WWII warbirds. The only reason he isn’t flying for American Airlines is because of this onerous and idiotic Age 65 Rule!
I was forced to retire under the Age 60 Rule. I was lucky! JetBlue retained my services as the senior test pilot. I was no longer allowed to fly airliners with paying passengers on board. However, I WAS allowed to fly airliners with all the seats full of non-paying passengers. IDIOTIC! I’m tempted to pay my “respects” to Smith’s and Quesada’s graves…
On balance, I have to admit I’ve been very fortunate. My career has been akin to a roller-coaster ride, but I’ve had some forty years in an industry where few enjoy even thirty.
I have had amazing support. Cheryl and I have been together since 1970. I mentioned in “Walker Bunch – Part Two” where Cheryl set the baseline for our partnership when I accepted the Air-America offer to fly in Cambodia. I felt that it made sense for me to go to Cambodia and assess the situation. Then, if it was secure enough, to have Cheryl join me. “No way!” We had been married a just a few months at that point. Cheryl said, “We are partners in life. If you go, I go!” That’s the way it’s been since then.
After we returned from participating in the South East Asia War Games, I settled back in with my airline flying routine. Cheryl, then pregnant, was on a maternity leave.
We lived in a nice town house in Littleton, Colorado a city on the southwest edge of Denver. “Walker Bunch – Part Two” covered most of our life with Frontier and America West Airlines. This was followed by our JetBlue Experience!
NEW AIR to JetBlue
JetBlue was a glorious experience for both Cheryl and me. We were treated so well and immediately felt at home even though JetBlue was a new airline with folks coming from a wide area of the industry. For some, the airline business was an entirely new experience. For example, one of the new flight attendants had been a career NYC fire fighter. Other than pilots and mechanics the other disciplines drew folks from all walks of life.
Being part of the start-up of JetBlue was special. The dichotomy, however, is puzzling. Once I retired it was like I had died! To have been such a part and have so many wonderful experiences, that mean so much to Cheryl and me, is a huge memory bank to draw on. It was an idyllic time.
Cheryl had recently completed her masters degree in Social Work and became the school counselor at Towne Meadows Elementary. She loved it. It lasted three months!
As with everything from our beginning, If I was going, she was going. Her school treated Cheryl as though she’d been there thirty years. They had a big going-away bash for her.
To meet Cheryl is to find a friend for life. Most want to confide in her. She’s just that kind of person. Off to New York City we went.
Cheryl went with me on most of the early JetBlue proving runs and would be along on over half the new airplane deliveries. She is a true partner-in-life.
New Air changed to Jet Blue after the lawyers rejected the name an agency came up with that may have caused litigation. Undaunted, David Neeleman simply said, “I like the color Blue. Let’s call it Blue Jet!” That morphed into JetBlue and the brand was off and running!
Jet Blue went from thirty five employees in September 1999 to over twenty thousand employees in 2016. There were no airplanes or gates when I arrived in 1999 and now JetBlue has some two hundred thirty airplanes flying to more than one hundred destinations. Meteoric!
Truly a billion dollar company, JetBlue produced nearly seven billion dollars in revenue with over a billion dollars in operating income in 2016. David Neeleman has to be proud of what he started albeit he was himself affected by corporate megalomania and pushed out the door.
With a shrug of his shoulders, David headed back to Brazil where he was born. Sao Paulo was his first home before his parents returned to Utah. It would not be long before David worked his magic.
Azul (Blue in Portuguese) is David Neeleman’s most recent effort and is itself doing very well. Imagine, founding no less than four airlines and each a success. To know David Neeleman is to appreciate the dynamism of this extraordinary man.
David is an admittedly afflicted with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Rather than allow this to get in his way, David has found a way to use ADD to his advantage. Because of this affliction, David’s creative juices flow like water over Niagara Falls.
While the three senior JetBlue management pilots, Al “The Pilots Pal” Spain, Brian Coulter, and Mike Barger would grab a flight here and there, I found myself enjoying much of the proving run flying and, later, many of the inaugural flights.
It was a busy time, but a fun time. David Neeleman put into place a strong value system. If you came on board with Jet Blue you were required to subscribe to the five core values: Safety, Caring, Integrity, Passion and Fun. These values were the emphasis by which Jet Blue operated when David was there.
After David Neeleman’s departure, the values were still proclaimed but were no longer, seemingly, part of the management character. I would discover that fact in October 2006 when I retired for good. I almost heard the door slam behind me.
Fortunately, I have stayed in touch with a number of the JetBlue Crew whom I had the great pleasure of working with. E-mail and phone visits are the saving grace for my staying in touch. The puzzlement notwithstanding, Cheryl and I will always treasure our JetBlue experience.
Lafayette Escadrille d’Arizona
As of this writing I’ve enjoyed retirement for more than ten years. I count myself lucky as I still get to enjoy the thing I love doing most, flying. I flew a plans-built Nieuport 17, a WWI replica, for ten years as part of a seven ship squadron although the most we ever had flying was five plus a Pietenpol painted like a German aircraft we called “The Target.”
I donated my Nieuport to the Planes of Fame museum where it sits prominently on display no longer a threat to my airmanship. It was a very challenging airplane to fly.
I bought a Stearman from my pal, Roger Parrish’s, brother, Richard, in Carbondale, Ill. It was painted like and Army Air Corps PT-17. I flew it several years before circumstances provided an opportunity to restore it back to it’s original US Navy livery, an N2S-3.
I sold 964 to the Commemorative Air Force. Now, like the ol’ whore, I sold it, but still got it!
I fly 964 some five times more now that someone else is paying the upkeep. Life is good.
I fly a few other airplanes as well. And, as long as I’m physically able to crawl into the cockpit I’ll keep flying and teaching along with mentoring the younger folks coming along. I will do what was done for me and just pass what I’ve learned to listening ears.
Our first flight both as a proving-run and, later, on February 11th, 2000, our first revenue flight was from JFK to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Jet Blue surprised everyone except, perhaps David Neeleman, with it’s immediate and meteoric success which, in part, was due to it’s progressiveness along with innovativeness.
JetBlue was the first to issue pilots lap tops. These laptops had every manual the company utilized. If I wanted to know a flight attendant’s or dispatcher’s procedure it was loaded in my laptop.
When we arrived at our crew room to prepare for a flight we’d simply plug in the laptop and ‘bingo’ it would be updated. We did our own weight and balance for each flight.
I recall one delightful flight from Ft. Lauderdale to JFK. A lot of enroute weather was involved and, as you might expect, the competitive airliners were stacked up waiting for their loading to be transmitted and they were in line to wait separation by air traffic control.
No problem! After starting up we called for our clearance and taxi instructions. One innovative thing we did was to fly out over the ocean to avoid the congestion on the inner air routes. It worked really slick.
We received our taxi clearance which took us past all those waiting airliners with Delta, Continental, & United paint jobs, One disgruntled competitor picked up his mike and asked, “Where is JetBlue going?”
The Ft. Lauderdale ground controller said, “He’s gonna to a Linda Ronstadt!”
“What’s that” someone asked? The controller said, “He’s gonna ‘Blue By You!'”
A lot of the success Jet Blue enjoyed can be attributed to some very talented people working in concert to make the impossible happen. Even the FAA was terrific to deal with.
FAA Principle Operations Inspector, Kevin O’Donnell, was way ahead of most in our benevolent federal bureaucracy. A knowledgable computer whiz, O’Donnell worked well with Al Spain and others to get Jet Blue flying under the new certification procedures. Everyone had a key role to play.
I sure wish I had a photo of Kevin, but do have one of Al Spain taken the day of my last flight as an airline captain. September 29, 2001. One day later I turned sixty and, just like that, was no longer allowed to captain an airliner with passengers who paid for their ticket!
A really funny, actually odd, piece to that onerous FAA Age 60 Regulation (now Age 65) was that I could still fly an airline full of passengers. IF none paid for their ticket.
In fact, I flew a number of Airbus A-320’s, full of non-revenue passengers from Toulouse, France, as well as in and out of El Salvador. I flew another five years as the senior test pilot and APD (flight examiner) before finally “hanging it up…” Few have the great fortune to have n’joyed a forty-year airline career. I have written how blessed that I am. Surely, I will state that postulate again, and again!
For Cheryl and me, our JetBlue experience was very memorable and rewarding. I was treated like royalty! But, strangely, after I retired the second time in 2007, it was as though I had died! Nothing!
When the 10th Anniversary celebration came around I heard nothing albeit assumed I would be invited. I even called only to be told “NOPE!” That was certainly puzzling and disappointing…
I remain grateful to stay in contact with individual JetBlue Crew members. I had a delightful breakfast just yesterday with Captain Doug James. But, no management folks. Sad!
I’m a professional retiree! I retired from Frontier Airlines (1986), America West Airlines (1999), American Airlines (thru merger with AWA), and, finally JetBlue Airways.
Frontier who has been out of business since corporate megalomania destroyed that wonderful little airline in 1986, has a retiree group replete with a fabulous newsletter thanks to Honorary Captain, Jake Lamkins. AWA has a “Cactus Crews” gathering monthly (except during the COVID-19 hiatus). American retirees has an annual BBQ and update. JetBlue, ZIP! Sad!