Speculation about their new CEO from today's Memphis Commercial Appeal (Pinnacle is a Delta - former Northwest - feeder)
Is a Memphis airline industry veteran the CEO-in-waiting for a would-be revival of an early 1980s discount airline?
An Aviation Week blogger speculated that former Pinnacle Airlines Corp. president and CEO Phil Trenary could be waiting in the wings to lead People Express.
Organizers of People Express have said their CEO was a president and CEO of another airline who is restricted by a non-compete agreement until mid-March.
Trenary left Pinnacle, a $1 billion regional airline holding company based in Memphis, last March 24. His $1.7 million consulting agreement included a one-year non-compete clause.
People Express was a low-cost, no-frills carrier that started in the early 1980s. It eventually bought Frontier, ran into financial difficulty and was acquired by Continental.
A group that includes executives from the original People Express recently announced a plan to resurrect the airline, with headquarters at Williamsburg/Newport News, Va., and major presence at Pittsburgh.
Aviation Week's commercial aviation writer guessed Trenary is the mystery man because "there are not that many people who have left a president/CEO position -- especially with a non-compete clause that would expire in that time frame."
Pinnacle officials referred questions to Trenary, who couldn't be reached Tuesday.
Trenary has more than 25 years of experience running regional airlines, but might be on less familiar ground at a mainline carrier, Airline Weekly managing director Seth Kaplan said.
"The skills might not be entirely transferable," Kaplan said. While regionals and mainlines have similar operational requirements, regionals rely on mainlines like Delta, United and American for ticketing, route planning and other functions.
The speculation about Trenary comes at a time when Pinnacle is teetering on the brink of a Chapter 11 bankruptcy and share prices have plummeted to multiyear lows. Most of Trenary's top management has been replaced since he left.
Pinnacle shares closed at $1.27 on Tuesday, compared to a 52-week high of $6.18 on the Nasdaq.
"For someone starting a new airline, they're looking at the fact they're not going to be able to lure a very successful airline executive who's already employed," Kaplan said. "I'd imagine they'd look at other people with experience running airlines who might be available. Whether that's him as opposed to anyone else, I wouldn't know."
Kaplan said whoever leads People Express, "It's going to be tough." Even without the challenges faced by startups, existing carriers "are having a hard time finding profitable ways to grow, especially with the way oil prices are."