Chapter 6

At the end of 1964, Gerry Thomas, V.P. Domestic Marketing, offered me a position in his group. The position would be in support of John Burton and Art Reaume. Art was taking over the Southeast portion of the U.S. I accepted the position and joined the Marketing Department on January 3rd, 1965.

The initial project was working with John Burton on our continued effort at West Coast Airlines. They were located on Boeing field in Seattle, which made it a greater challenge. Boeing was now starting to offer their own competitor to the DC-9, the 737. When John received a handshake for the order of DC-9 aircraft from Nick Bez, the owner of the airline, it raised quite a stir in the State of Washington. Nick was an elderly gentleman with the accent of a person who had immigrated from Eastern Europe. His money was made from the fish industry, and he was a mainstay of the Seattle business community.

Because Boeing contemplated the production of the 737 to compete with the DC-9, they tried to convince Nick Bez to wait. This included pressure from the Congressmen from Washington D.C. who wielded a significant amount of leverage where airline matters were concerned. Nick would only tell them that he had a handshake with Douglas and that was good enough.

Nick Bez, Jr. was President of the airline; however, he was more interested in the color scheme of the airline than operations. It was said that Nick, Sr. had purchased the airline for Jr. to keep him occupied as his other son was running the fish business. They were a good group of people to work with, and sincere.

Nick, Sr. provided Jr. with adequate support to run the airline. Ed Altman, Executive V.P., was an ex-union man with strong political ties and the strength to keep things in order. Dave Hinson, a young ex-Naval pilot, with a high degree of confidence in himself, handled flight operations for West Coast. Later became head of the F.A.A., and prior to that became V.P. of Marketing at McDonnell Douglas; sorry to say, it was after I had departed. Excellent people included Shelby Tuttle, Director of Flight, and Jack Vidal, V.P. Maintenance, who had recently joined West Coast from Hawaiian. Both John and I enjoyed working with the people of West Coast Airline.

On a Sunday morning in October 1966, two weeks after delivery of West Coast Airlines first aircraft, I received a phone call from their Engineering Representative in Seattle. He said that they had run the aircraft into a mountain on approach to Portland airport. All seventeen aboard were killed, all being West Coast employees. He wanted to know how soon we could deliver another aircraft. That was the hardest airplane sale I ever made.

West Coast Airlines, DC-9-10