Mesa's Ornstein is confident as ever
A native New Yorker, Jonathan Ornstein, the CEO of go!, is already adapting to life in Hawaii.
Less than a week after starting service with his new interisland airline, he's managed to find time to go surfing to celebrate the smooth takeoff. He's confident not only in the viability of go!, which set off interisland price warfare with its entry to the Hawaii market, but also in its future in the state.
The chairman and chief executive of Mesa Air Group Inc., the Phoenix-based parent of go!, was one of the panelists at a Travel Weekly 2006 Hawaii Leadership Forum yesterday, along with John Votsis, vice president of sales for Aloha Airlines, and executive representatives of Outrigger Enterprises, Marriott International and Starwood Hotels & Resorts.
Aloha Airlines and go! took the interisland fare war to new levels last week when go! offered $19 one-way tickets for the debut of its interisland flights, while Aloha gave away 1,000 free round-trip interisland tickets.
Then go! announced that its earlier, promotional $39 one-way fare would be part of its regular fare structure.
Ornstein and Votsis traded a few playful jabs at one another on the panel. But the rules were clear: Any talk about future fares was off limits.
Neither the history of other airlines that have failed to contend against the state's two largest carriers, nor the pending arrival of the Hawaii Superferry can stamp Ornstein's confidence in go!'s potential for success.
Mesa has performed well on the mainland, he pointed out, operating more than 180 aircraft under its own name as well as for larger airlines. The parent corporation brings in revenues of more than $1 billion annually.
"We have a history of being profitable, so I don't think we expect our experience here to be any different," he said.
Ornstein said yesterday that there's plenty of room for a new player in the airline industry, particularly when there's demand from customers seeking lower fares.
He declined to disclose revenue figures for go!'s first week in the air, but said: "Our load factor has significantly exceeded our expectations. It's much better than we had hoped for at this point in time."
The airline, which is only using two aircraft right now, expects to double its number of flights by the end of the month.
At $39, he said go! will be able to compete with the Superferry, when and if it does arrive in the Hawaiian Islands next year.
"There will be a segment of the market that will go with the Superferry," he said, "but we will be faster."
The new air carrier's strategy is to make itself stand out as a different experience, whether it be with modern island tunes as background music, or a beverage menu with competitive prices.
"Six months from now, we have to keep things fresh," he said. "We have to be different."