Mesa CEO takes aim at Hawaii market

 - December 26, 2006, 5:05 AM

Jonathan Ornstein rarely goes more than a few weeks without making headlines in the aviation press, but the fiery CEO of Mesa Air Group outdid himself last year with the launch of his new Go! subsidiary in Hawaii. Never one to shy from upsetting the status quo, Ornstein reinforced his reputation as a maverick–and a pariah to some–while styling himself as a kind of airline industry’s Hugo Chavez by restoring “affordable” inter-island flying to the Hawaiian masses with $19 one-way fares on Mesa’s Bombardier CRJs. Of course, Hawaii’s incumbent airlines take issue with that portrayal and argue that Ornstein would never have launched his crusade without the benefit of confidential information he obtained as a potential investor during Hawaiian Airlines’ Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings.

Although Hawaiian failed to convince bankruptcy court judge Robert Faris that Go! caused enough damage to bar the Mesa subsidiary from flying inter-island service, Faris did raise doubts about the propriety of Mesa’s conduct and invited Hawaiian to file for a new injunction as part of its pending lawsuit due to go to trial in April. Aloha Airlines has since joined Hawaiian in suing Mesa, citing e-mail records that allegedly detail plans to eliminate Aloha from the market with predatory pricing.

Rob Mauraucher, CEO of Hawaii’s largest turboprop operator, Honolulu-based Island Air, last month blamed Go! for instability in the market that forced his decision to jettison two more airplanes, five routes and 65 employees. Island Air already had decommissioned a new Bombardier Q400 over the summer and suspended plans to take two more. A letter of intent to place the Q400s into service from Las Vegas remains outstanding, and Mauraucher has declined to comment on its status.