Bill Franke is a name that should make airline passengers shudder and yet it’s hardly known. He ran America West and hired Doug Parker to be his cost-cutting CFO.
Franke is responsible for turning Spirit Airlines into an ultra low cost carrier. He divested there and bought Frontier Airlines, turning it into a Spirit clone. And now he’s merging the two.
Parker, of course, is the Franke protege’ who went on to run America West, take over US Airways and then American Airlines.
Outside the U.S. Franke is responsible for giving the world low cost airlines Volaris, Tiger Airways, JetSmart (which is partnering with Parker’s American), and Wizz Air.
It’s this last airline, Wizz Air, that is now creating controversy in the U.S. since it wants to fly to the U.S. and U.S. airline pilots don’t want the low cost competition out of fear it will compete down their wages here.
The Air Line Pilots Association says they’re anti-union and wraps their objections in safety. The pilots union at American calls out their “anti-union record” and “safety culture,” and is at least forthright in admitting their concern is self-interest (“the impact its foreign carrier permit would have on competition”). Unions were against Norwegian and other low cost carriers from Europe flying transatlantic as well.
Being ‘anti-union’ isn’t a legal reason to reject their application, though it may gain sympathy from the current administration and drive them to delay it and look for other reasons.
There’s little doubt that Franke has driven down airfares. On net I’m glad to see ultra low cost carriers force legacy airlines to compete, and dislike those legacy carriers and their unions looking to the government to protect them from competition at the expense of passengers who would have fewer choices and pay higher fares.
There’s also little doubt, however, that the result of this (and the spreading out of Franke proteges to other airlines) has led to worse customer experiences at other carriers. Need I mention that Wizz Air’s CEO wants to make business class illegal ‘for the environment’? The denser the seating the better, because you spread carbon emissions across more people.