Since Juneau pathologist Tom Hall bought Haines Airways last year, he's aimed to reinvent it.
``It's pretty much an overhaul from top to bottom. This is really a new company,'' said Hall, who heads Haines Air's parent company Alaska Coast Air Group.
After acquiring Haines Air on May 1, Alaska Coast Air Group also bought out Alaska Coastal Airlines and Alaska Outback Adventures last year. Most recently, the partnership purchased Tyme Air, a Hoonah company previously owned by Mike Jackson.
And now Haines Air has an entirely new fleet of planes.
Hall, 47, is director of medical laboratories for Bartlett Regional Hospital. The six-year resident of Juneau has kept a low profile since acquiring Haines Air last year.
On a recent round trip from Juneau to Gustavus, Jackson, now chief pilot for Haines Air, had nothing but praise for Hall, who is a pilot himself.
``He spared no expense for the customer. It's an approach I haven't seen for a long time in aviation,'' Jackson said. ``I like the man's mentality. ... He's tired of everyone pointing to someone else for the standard. He wants to set the standard.''
In Gustavus, Haines Air purchased the old Alaska Airlines terminal, moved it to a new location and remodeled it, designating space for a cafe where travelers can get an espresso and a doughnut.
Staffing at the airport will increase from one part-time employee to three full-time employees and one or two part-time. Office Manager Evelyn Stanger was in Gustavus last week conducting interviews for the new positions.
The airline has added two mechanics, and will draw from a pool of pilots that also work for the partnership's other holdings.
Hall said he owns an airplane leasing company and therefore will have the flexibility to move planes in and out as needed. Haines Air will restore regular service to Hoonah in the near future, and is also considering providing an air ambulance service, he said.
Jackson and George Campbell, formerly the single owner-operator of Alaska Outback Adventures, will provide customized guiding expeditions for high-end independent travelers.
Before Hall stepped in, Haines Air had been reeling from a couple of years in which the airline was plagued by problems.
Four people died in July 1997 when one of the company's Piper Cherokees ditched in Lynn Canal near Skagway because of a mechanical problem. Although all six people aboard exited the craft safely, three tourists and a cruise ship employee drowned because they were unable to don life vests.
Federal investigators later concluded that contributing factors were the pilot's inadequate briefing about where life vests were stored and seat covers that hampered their accessibility.
Then, Haines Air's parent corporation, Mountain Aviation of Sitka, a subsidiary of the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, pleaded guilty to a felony violation of the federal Clean Air Act. The company had hired unqualified workers - teen-age boys - who did not follow proper procedures in removing asbestos from a hangar in Sitka.
The company paid a $50,000 fine and set up a program to monitor the three boys for cancer. A company employee also pled guilty to negligent endangerment.
Ken Simpson, director of operations for Haines Air, said he's not worried that the reputation of past management will haunt the company.
``Our customer base is very well up to speed on those issues,'' he said.
There was a slight snag last fall, however, when the company initially tried to bring its four new Cessna 206s on line.
Federal regulators ordered the carrier to cease operations briefly after a dispute with its insurance company caused a lapse in coverage. Simpson blamed federal intervention on unnamed competitors who, he said, are jealous of Hall's vast financial resources. But the situation was resolved within a week.
Now, Hall and Simpson see themselves well-poised to compete more aggressively in Southeast.
Haines Air sold its aging fleet of Piper Cherokees, and all scheduled flights are now being serviced by 1999 model Cessnas.
``The reason for doing that and part of the reason for my interest in aviation is providing a more reliable, safer service,'' Hall said.
Hall and Simpson tout the turbine-engine Caravan, a nine-seater, as an especially safe, comfortable and smooth-handling aircraft.
``It's the industry standard throughout the world for this type of operation,'' Simpson said. ``We looked at all of our operations closely, and we believe in the Cessna Caravan.''
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