Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Chapter 11 debtor Mesaba Airline's pilots question usefulness of their parent company's executives; are they just a "sponge" for revenues? KARE 11 News The bankruptcy of regional carrier Mesaba Airlines is shining a spotlight on its parent company, MAIR Holdings. MAIR has avoided bankruptcy, even though Mesaba is responsible for 97 percent of MAIR's revenue and all of its profits. The two maintain separate corporate headquarters.MAIR President and CEO Paul Foley's $700,000 salary and bonus in the year that ended in March topped that of Doug Steenland, who was president and later chief executive of Northwest Airlines Corp. during the same period. Northwest is Mesaba's only customer. Foley's four-year employment contract with MAIR signed last fall included a $500,000 signing bonus.Minnesota Twins owner Carl Pohlad is MAIR's chairman and is paid $300,000 a year."MAIR fundamentally acts as a vacuum cleaner taking cash from the right pocket of Mesaba," said Tom Wychor, a 16-year Mesaba pilot and chairman of the airline's pilots union, and uses some of that money to "fund a separate suite of executives.""I don't know of anybody who can tell me what Paul Foley does on a day-to-day basis at MAIR Holdings," Wychor said.MAIR board member Pierson (Sandy) Grieve, described Foley as "a very effective operating executive and a good communicator." He credited Foley with helping make Mesaba safe and efficient.MAIR spokesman Jon Austin said on Monday that MAIR is offering Mesaba up to $35 million in financing in bankruptcy, and that MAIR gave Mesaba $31.7 million as Mesaba prepared to fly new regional jets.Foley joined Mesaba in 1999 as chief executive. In late 2002, Foley hailed the $3.2 million acquisition of Big Sky Airlines, a small carrier based in Billings, Mont., as "a good example of the type of opportunity we are seeking." But Big Sky has failed to become a growth vehicle, instead piling up almost $11 million in pretax operating losses in three years. "The pilots very clearly see MAIR Holdings and Paul Foley as an expense that we can't afford at this time," Wychor said. Mesaba must "restructure ourselves out of being the only airline supporting two management teams (MAIR and Mesaba) and another carrier's losses." Austin said Big Sky is operating under restrictions demanded by Mesaba pilots. The restrictions, which include limits on where Big Sky can fly, are "certainly a significant factor in how Big Sky has performed," Austin said.

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