- The Washington Times - Monday, March 5, 2001

World Airways Inc.'s decision to move from Herndon, Va., to the Atlanta suburb of Peachtree City next month says volumes about the challenges of running an airline business in the Dulles Corridor.
The rent is high, many in the white-collar work force wouldn't even recognize a monkey wrench, and the traffic can be horrendous.
It also says volumes about the charter passenger and cargo plane company's new chairman and chief executive officer, Hollis Harris. He is a no-nonsense turnaround king of airlines who believes that when something is going wrong with a company, the chief executive should make adjustments until things go right.
He explains his plan for the company simply: "The main goal is to make money."
In World Airways' case, that means saving between $800,000 and $900,000 a year by moving to the Atlanta area, marketing harder in the high-growth areas of air freight service and hiring more personnel with experience in the nuts and bolts of airlines.
His colleagues in the airline industry make similar observations about Mr. Harris.
"While he seeks consensus and opinion from his team, Hollis was always someone who knew what he wanted to do," says Doug Port, senior vice president of customer service for Air Canada. "He was never shy in making the call for a company. Fourteen to one are good odds for him."
Mr. Port worked with Mr. Harris to engineer the turnaround of Air Canada in the mid-1990s.
"He helped save Air Canada," Mr. Port says. "We were faced with a half-billion-dollar loss. I remember the day he said, 'It's time for me to stop talking and start meddling.' "
As Mr. Harris sat in his office overlooking Washington Dulles International Airport recently, he confessed during an interview that the luxury of his $25-per-square-foot office was greater than World Airways' budget justified.
"It's a fairly nice headquarters," he says. "We don't need that for a small airline."
His neighbors include America Online and telecommunications companies Sprint and WorldCom.
The second problem with the Washington area is the labor pool, he says. Staff members come and go with the most recent offer of a pay increase. In Atlanta, plenty of former Eastern Airlines and Delta Air Lines employees are available as mechanics, crew schedulers, dispatchers and computer specialists.

A warm reception

Already, before the company has even moved, Atlanta job seekers have come calling. "We have received the applications of almost 200 very well-qualified people," Mr. Harris says.
If Mr. Harris, 69, can turn World Airways around, it will be the third time he has saved an airline from financial disaster.
He learned his trade during 36 years with Delta. In 1987, he rose to become president and second-in-command of the Atlanta-based airline.
Then, in 1990, he surprised everyone with what he calls the toughest decision of his career. Continental Airlines Inc. convinced him to leave Delta to become its chief executive officer and main hope for a rescue from financial collapse.
"The [Delta] people wanted me to stay, but I wanted the opportunity to be a chief executive officer," Mr. Harris says.
With some cost-cutting and Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, Continental re-emerged as a competitor among major U.S. passenger air carriers.
"I was immediately in a crisis mode," Mr. Harris says. "I was learning more and more every day about operating in a crisis situation."
Impressed by his record at Continental, Air Canada hired Mr. Harris in February 1992 to help the airline recover from record losses.
After Mr. Harris spent several years with Air Canada that saw the airline become financially solvent, the board of World Airways hired him on May 1, 1999.
In 1999, World Airways, which has a market capitalization of $11.5 million, posted a loss of about $9 million on revenue of $264 million. Last year, the company made about $883,000 on $264 million in revenue. So far this year, the company is projecting both an operating profit and a net profit.
Its shares traded recently at $1.25. The one-year high is $1.50.
The company flies to 36 countries for customers such as the U.S. Air Force, cruise lines such as Princess, Carnival and Holland-America and freight forwarder Emory Worldwide. World Airways also has a contract with Indonesia's Garuda Airlines to fly large numbers of Muslims to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, for the holy period between Feb. 15 and April 15.
About 40 percent of the company's business involves carrying cargo, the rest passengers. Mr. Harris hopes to increase the higher-profit cargo business to 50 percent by the end of this year.
The biggest customer is the U.S. Air Force. In 1999, although World Airways loyally moved supplies and troops during the Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars, the Air Force gave much of its World Airways business to other companies. Air Force officials were concerned that World Airways' declining fortunes made it an unreliable contractor.

Making a comeback

The company had been trying to compete head-to-head with passenger airlines rather than focusing on the backbone charter passenger and cargo business it developed over 52 years.
Late last year, as Mr. Harris helped to pull the company toward solvency, the Air Force reinstated its contract, buoying World Airways' hopes that the end of hard times was near. The contract is valued at $190 million to $200 million a year.
"We have been able to grow the revenue base and gotten our costs down," Mr. Harris says.
Among the belt-tightening moves was convincing pilots and crew members to take 10 percent pay cuts for a year and a half in exchange for shares in the company.
His growth plans include expanding the company's customer base by making more airplanes available to them. World Airways ended 2000 with 11 airplanes and plans to have 16 by the end of 2001, all of them international range MD-11s and DC-10s.
If World Airways' board likes Mr. Harris as much as he likes World Airways, he hopes to make the company the last stop for his career.
In addition to being a business decision, the move to Atlanta also is a homecoming for Mr. Harris, a native of the area with a noticeable Southern drawl. The company is moving into a new four-story, 60,000-square-foot office building being built on land Mr. Harris and his family own about 20 minutes from Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport. Mr. Harris will own the building and lease space to World Airways.
Less enthusiastic about the move are some of the employees who will be left behind. World Airways plans to take 95 to 100 of its 200 Washington-area employees with the company to Atlanta. Another 90 will be hired from among Atlanta's labor pool. Most of the Washington-area workers who will be left behind are clerical staff. Others are dispatchers, system controllers, crew schedulers and finance and information technology personnel. Its worldwide pool of 300 pilots and 400 flight attendants will be unaffected by the move.SELF-PORTRAIT

Hollis Harris, chairman and chief executive officer of World Airways Inc.
Charitable work: Supporting Boy Scouts of America, Presbyterian missions
Hobbies: Golf, tennis
Favorite book: "The Greatest Generation" by Tom Brokaw
Biggest unfulfilled ambition: Traveling to Antarctica
Family: Married with three adult children

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide