National Airlines’ ‘top gun’ is flying high

Feb 26, 2002 9:30 AM

The song says “You Gotta Have Heart!”

Mike Conway, top gun at National Airlines, knows it well. He has plenty of it.

But, this story is not about his heart, it’s about his grit, his tenacity, if you please.

Conway learned his ABCs growing up on the streets of Brooklyn. He learned well. He got his feet wet in the airlines business with AmericaWest. By the time the idea for National Airlines came along Conway was ready.

Soon after takeoff of the Las Vegas-based airlines, Conway hit some heavy turbulence. Fuel prices went to the sky. The economy softened. And, his chosen market was a leisure destination that generates low yield.

Mike knew how to hit fastballs, but life was throwing curves and his grit was being put to a test. He found relief in bankruptcy court when he filed Chapter 11. It was like being down for the nine-count. But, Conway got off the canvas and began implementing plans for recovery.

The Irish-Italian-American is a devout believer in teamwork. He called upon his team and they were there.

“Sinatra used to remind us that he wouldn’t be anywhere without the help of the band. I feel the same about my employees,” Conway said.

“The events of Sept. 11 were a near fatal blow to the airline industry. It hurt everyone. It hurt us, that’s for sure. But, we thought we had a solid plan. We had been working hard for nearly a year to pull the company out of bankruptcy. We believed strongly in what we were doing. We were not about to give up.

“It’s funny in life that sometimes in the jaws of defeat comes relief. The government was quite concerned. They listened to our woes. And, thank goodness, they decided to do something about it.

“A Guarantee Board was set up. National met with them. So did AmericaWest. Actually, they went first. It was our place to show them our plan where government assistance would make the difference.”

Conway said he believes that by the deadline the end of June almost all other airlines will seek relief even though some have indicated they will not.

“We met with the government people on Jan. 24 in Washington, D.C. We laid out our game plan. We are moving full steam ahead. Everything is scheduled to be buttoned up by the end of this month.

“We watched very closely the whole process that was being laid out by AmericaWest. The ice is thin when you’re asking for assistance in a program without procedure.”

Returning to the future, this was a bright week for National Airlines. They announced adding three round-trips daily to Seattle beginning May 23. On the same date they will add a fourth flight to Dallas/Ft. Worth.

Air travel ”” although still off from the norm ”” is gradually coming back. Especially for National Airlines.

The airline’s efforts have not gone unnoticed in the industry. Conde Nast Traveler magazine and Zagat Airlines Survey have recognized National for its outstanding care of its customers. Increased legroom and overhead storage space throughout the cabin are two favorites of passengers.