Wheels Up: Ravn Will Return to the Skies Under New Ownership
The new leadership team at Ravn Alaska: from left to right, President Tom Hsieh, CEO Rob McKinney, and Chief Commercial Officer Dan Kitchens.
As of August 7, Ravn Alaska is operating under new ownership and preparing to get back in the air with a new leadership team: CEO Rob McKinney, President Tom Hsieh, Chief Compliance Officer Dan Kitchens, and Chief Financial Officer Jim Day, all of whom have years of experience in the aviation industry.
Before acquiring Ravn’s two Part 121 airlines and associated assets, McKinney and Hsieh had founded and were operating FLOAT Shuttle, a commuter shuttle service that allowed people to fly over—instead of sit in—rush hour traffic in Southern California. “We were going great-guns on that and we started flying our first flights when the whole world just blew up on us [with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic]. When the whole goal is to fly people over traffic, and then there’s no traffic anymore to fly anyone over, your business kind of needs to pause for a little bit,” McKinney says.
But instead of taking a break, they took a moment to look for other opportunities. “We’re driven people and we thought, ‘Well, what else could we do?’” Ravn wasn’t the only airline that COVID-19 grounded abruptly; McKinney says they considered several airlines that were in trouble, “but really, there was a reason they were in trouble and there wasn’t anything that we were going to do to change their situation.” On the other hand: “Ravn seemed unique that there were some unique challenges to it, but it had some really good things going for it, too, that we thought it was just the perfect solution for us.”
The new Ravn Alaska is developing protocols to ensure travel is safe for employees and passengers when they resume operations.
In addition to seeing potential on the business side, McKinney and the team appreciated Ravn’s place in the state providing essential air services to communities that often have no other options. “We saw how [those communities] were suffering with no air service whatsoever, and we thought we would be the ones that would come and resurrect a company for the right reasons—bring it back to life, make it be of service to people—versus maybe a private equity group that would just split it up for the parts and try to make money that way,” McKinney explains.
It’s a familiar philosophy of operations in Alaska, which has a large pool of businesses that find a positive balance between making profit and focusing on the communities and people they serve.
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As of late August, Ravn is preparing to get back in the air. A big part of that is hiring employees—fifty-one so far, McKinney reports—all of which are former Ravn employees that have been invited back to the airline: “People that still really care about the company and put their blood, sweat, and tears into it and are ready to partner with us and push forward.”
The Ravn team is also developing appropriate COVID-19 protocols, such as building time into flight schedules to disinfect the planes “on every single turn,” to make sure every employee and passenger can fly safely.
The airline is also working with the FAA and US DOT to ensure compliance with all federal regulations to ensure the safety of everyone aboard.
McKinney says Ravn has already undergone some structural changes to allow the regional airline to find success in the coming years, and as operations begin “we’ll have to scale up to the right size and maybe frequencies will change a little bit to make sure Ravn stays profitable,” but there are a few things that remain the same.
For one: the cookies.
“I tell people I’ve started to worry about my personal safety if I was to get rid of the cookies,” McKinney laughs. “The cookies definitely will be coming back, because I think too many people recognize me now.”
McKinney has moved to Alaska to better lead Ravn as it relaunches; while he’s new to Anchorage (and currently house hunting) he’s not new to the state, as he worked in Southeast in previous years. “I’m having a ball,” he says of the transition. “I love the people I’m working with, and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else at this point.”
He says he’s aware that, in the midst of its difficulties, Ravn wasn’t able to serve some of its customers to their complete satisfaction. “I’ve heard a lot of anecdotal stories that there was a fair amount of frustration with Ravn about how it was being run, and I want to encourage everyone to give us another shot… I think you’ll be delightfully surprised that we’ll have a whole different attitude toward serving our customers and making sure that we take care of people the way we should.”
In that spirit, McKinney wants to inform Ravn customers who purchased tickets before the acquisition that were never used and haven’t been refunded of two solutions to the problem: One, customers can contact their credit card company to request the funds be returned. Two, customers who still want to travel can contact Ravn and, when operations begin, the tickets will be honored. “Unfortunately, we, as the new owners, are not going to be able to do cash refunds for anything that was purchase prior to the acquisition,” he explains.
McKinney hopefully anticipates Ravn will resume operating flights in mid-September, assuming approval from US DOT.
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