Commentary: Passenger's perspective on Vanguard Airline's demise

Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags:

As a reporter for the Colorado Springs Business Journal, I’ve watched the headlines on Vanguard Airlines’ press releases with optimism and appreciation for a small vendor in a competitive marketplace. For example:

May 15, 2002: “Vanguard Airlines Reports First Quarter 2002 Results; Substantial Improvements Over First Quarter 2001.”

June 27, 2002: “Vanguard Airlines Files Revised Application for Federal Loan Guarantee Assistance” (following turn-down by a post-September 11 federal review board)

July 3, 2002: “Vanguard Airlines Reports 65 Percent Increase in June Traffic”

July 8, 2002: “Vanguard Airlines Reports Record Passengers During Fourth of July Travel Period”, and “Vanguard Airlines Heats Up Travel with Sizzling Summer Sale Fares”

With family in the Kansas City area, we’ve taken multiple flights to and through the midwestern Vanguard hub – and have enjoyed a few $89 roundtrip ticket prices. My husband and I have flown to Atlanta, New Orleans and New York City for far less than United Airlines would have charged.

Tuesday at 3:30 a.m., the alarm went off, and we hurried to prepare for yet another 6 a.m. Vanguard Airlines flight – this time to the Big Apple where I had hoped to tour the New York Stock Exchange or the Wall Street Journal, among other attractions. So in the husky pre-dawn light, we made that last-minute call to be sure our flight would depart on time.

You know the rest. “Vanguard Airlines has cancelled all flights through July 31 and expects to suspend all operations,” says a composed recorded voice, “The company will be filing for Chapter 11 protection through the courts.”

Rick Gorman, Colorado Springs assistant director of aviation, offered his perspective on Vanguard’s demise. “We had no indication that Vanguard was ceasing service – I just heard about it at 8:30 this morning,” he said, adding that he’d since heard that the Vanguard management team had worked into the early morning hours to prepare its announcement.

“Fortunately, here in Colorado Springs with other airline and non-airline revenues, we were not highly dependent upon Vanguard Airlines to maintain our profitability,” said Gorman. “Out of total emplanements, Vanguard flights year-to-date accounted for approximately 4 percent of passenger activity. The greatest impact will be on travelers from Colorado Springs who are now faced with less competition and higher ticket prices.”

Scott Dickson, CEO of the struggling company, unlike his colleagues at Enron and Worldcom, had been forthcoming throughout Vanguard’s many attempts to find stable financing. In a press release issued on July 30, Dickson herald’s his company’s “dramatic year-over-year improvements in revenue growth, load factors, yield and revenue per available seat mile.” He also expressed frustration with the Air Transportation Stabilization Board’s refusal to grant his company’s request for post-September 11 loan assistance stating, “Vanguard’s latest request to the ASTB was in an amount less than 1 percent of the assistance already preliminarily approved for US Airways, and less than 2 percent of the assistance already provided to America West.”

I now think of Scott Dickson and the hundreds of Vanguard employees who will be laid off. And, in spite of WestPac’s and now, Vanguard’s failure, we must continue to support the entrepreneurial spirit that inspires energetic, honest business owners.