By Rosemary Pollock
Regional Airline Run by LDS Family Growing Rapidly
ST. GEORGE, UTAH -- SkyWest, the country's largest independently
owned regional airline, says, "the skys the limit," as it embarks on
one of the most ambitious expansion plans in the industry. While
Comair, a wholly owned subsidiary of Delta, is in the throes of a
month-long pilot strike, SkyWest is buying up five jets dropped by
Comair and planning new routes from Salt Lake City to Texas, Iowa and
"There's clearly going to be some opportunity not just for SkyWest
but I suspect for others," said Jerry Atkin, SkyWest's Chief
Executive Officer and member of The Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints. Getting ready to move into Comair territory is a
big change for a company that had one plane when it was established
in 1972. It was a six-seat Piper Seneca that shuttled between St.
George and Salt Lake City for $28 round trip and flew 256 passengers
that first year.
Today, SkyWest flies an average of 226 daily flights for Delta out of
its Salt Lake City hub and it runs another 768 flights a day for
United. Why the big change? In 1974, company founder, Ralph Atkin,
brought in his brother Jerry and he crunched the numbers and
discovered that the company had lost $150,000 that year and was only
worth $50,000 to start with.
"It's been a lot of years since then," Atkin said in his SkyWest St.
George office. "But there are a couple of things that were important
then and still are: You have to have a good quality product that
people can depend on and it's got to be well-managed and it's got to
be at a cost that's extremely competitive."
Another key ingredient in today's market is allowing the big carriers
to shoulder the weight. Three years ago, SkyWest was completely
independent, but today about 75 percent of its current flights are
under contract for Delta Connection and United Ex-press.
"It would be absolute foolishness and poor economics to even think of
doing anything different," Atkin said. "We can just sell so many more
seats so much easier through a major carrier than we could do trying
to get the world to understand what SkyWest is or what our phone
number is," he added.
Airline analyst, Jim Parker, with Raymond James &Associates said,
"There is plenty of room for growth." "All of these regional jets are
under contract so SkyWest doesn't have to find markets for them."
Parker also predicts that Delta will probably expand its regional
base, giving SkyWest the opportunity to fly further east and west.
"There's a veritable land grab taking place," Parker said. "Airlines
are falling over one another to get to regional jets." The topic of
Comair is touchy in todays market, but Atkin participates in an open
forum with employees and investors. "There's a good level of trust.
I'm not trying to say it's perfect but the level of trust between our
work group and management is probably higher than most."
SkyWest Spreads Its Wings
Salt Lake Tribune (AP) 26Jun01 B4
By Hannah Wolfson: Associated Press