Kim requested that I take over Frontier Airline, an airline which I previously handled. Then it was given to Ron Wasikowski. Soon after, Ron had problems within the airline.
At this time, Frontier was a Boeing 737 operator and had no inclination to get into the MD-80 aircraft. This is the airline that took my two DC-9s when they merged with Central Airline. They disposed of the aircraft and never operated them on their system.
I became friends with many of the people at Frontier, - in particular was Bill Durlin, V.P Maintenance and Engineering. He had the responsibility for selling the two DC-9s when they came from Central. He would remind me of this once in awhile to needle me. At the time, we were spinning our wheels at Frontier; Feldman was President. He was a gentleman and listened to our stories, but there was reluctance to listen to our story on the DC-9. Feldman left Frontier and became President of Continental Airlines, and Glenn Ryland assumed his position. Ryland was a feisty little gamecock who had no problem rubbing it in to the DC-9.
Things improved when we started delivering the MD-80, and Air California operated the aircraft setting new noise standards at the Orange County Airport, an airport that Frontier wanted to serve. Republic had purchased the MD-80 and became an Orange County Airport operator when they purchased and merged Airwest into their system. Boeing had started engineering on the 737 with the G.E. CFM-56 engine. Frontier was attempting to operate out of Orange County Airport, but did not have equipment with sufficient noise characteristics to get permission to operate into Orange County.
After telling Ryland that the MD-80 was not a DC-9 and providing a Demo flight to Frontier, we entered into negotiations. We spent two weeks in negotiations, with my going back and forth, but we concluded with an order for five aircraft with options for five additional aircraft. These aircraft operated effectively on their system. Frontier would later order up to seventeen aircraft but would end up in trouble and not take delivery.
As a side note to this, Feldman, who assumed control of Continental Airline, as President, lost control. Frank Lorenzo purchased the aircraft so that he could attach it to Texas International. Feldman, a highly sensitive person, committed suicide in his office, a trait common in the Feldman family. Sad, in that he was quite a gentleman.
With all this being completed by 1980 and deregulation in full swing, the airline industry began to change and airlines that made mistakes began to suffer. Republic was straining from the debt of purchasing Airwest. If they had waited for deregulation, they could have obtained Orange County without this debt. This was the same fate of Pan Am when debt of the purchase of National Airlines and burden of the 747s started them on their downward slide into oblivion.
Braniff, with acquisition of new European and Pacific routes, opted to start operations on these routes with 747 aircraft. The bleeding was so profuse that infusion of money by Boeing and Pratt and Whitney was insufficient. They did not ask Douglas for money, for obvious reasons. Many good friends got hurt by Hardings decision to become the next Pan Am. Russ Thayer tried to get Harding to focus on the aircraft they should use, but Hardings focus cost him the airline.
By the end of 1981, Republic had reached such a serious state that they could not take delivery of their MD-80 aircraft. They had nine in operation and ten additional aircraft on order and in some form of construction. We were in discussions with Northwest regarding the MD-80. They were looking at purchasing the 757 aircraft. We showed them the advantages of the MD-80 with the efficiency of the aircraft compared to the 757.
Don Nyrop had retired and Joe Lipinski was now the President. Well, Don only gave up his title, but he was still very prominent in the airline and on the Board of Directors. He maintained an office down the hall from Joe and made sure that he knew what was going on at all times. Joe felt that the MD-80 was an opportunity for Northwest, especially with the offer of the undelivered Republic MD-80 aircraft. However, Don just could not bring himself to justify the MD-80. Don believed that Boeing would build his airplane, and Pratt and Whitney would build his engine. We were able to sell the DC-10, but it had the Pratt engine, even if it was an inefficient one at best.
We had a friend in Ben Lightfoot, V.P. Maintenance and Engineering, a transplant from Continental Airlines. Ben did not survive the onslaught of Frank Lorenzo at Continental Airlines and joined Northwest. He felt that we were going to sell airplanes to Northwest.
A critical meeting was held with Joe Lapinski and John Brizendine. Neither I or the Pratt Rep were invited to this meeting. Joes idea was, who needs the working class attitude. Because of this, I felt he missed the opportunity to get some major assistance in his arguments with Don. Joe never made it past the Board of Directors meeting with the MD-80 offer; Don shot it down, something he will regret down the road.
This campaign was highlighted by the fact that I spent six weeks in Minneapolis trying to get Don on board and supply the information to the people in Northwest to evaluate. I am not sure what Don was thinking. Did he expect Boeing to save him as they were building the 737 with the GE engine, or that the Pratt powered 757 would be the smallest airplane in his fleet. Don thought very much in this direction. If he could serve his system with one airplane and one crew member, he would do it. Prior to Dons semi-retirement, he hired a young Notre Dame grad to run his Finance Department; this was Steve Rothmeir.
Braniff was in its death throes, but not obvious at the surface yet. Russ wanted to know about the MD-80. Several studies were made for him, but the cracks in the system began to show and he never was able to complete what he wanted the airline to look like. If Russ could have taken over control at Braniff, we would have sold DC-10-30 aircraft and the MD-80. I believe they would have survived, if not alone, but with another carrier. The industry was changing rapidly with many carriers beginning to show the effects of deregulation.