#2: Starting a brand new airline in Bermuda. A conversation with serial entrepreneur — Coral Jet’s Wes Gardner

About This Episode

Establishing a habit is easy, but keeping up a good habit can be difficult.

Welcome to the second episode of FLYHT’s JumpSeat podcast with our host Chris Glass and Coral Jet’s Wes Gardner where they talk about the works of starting up a brand new airline in Bermuda.

In this episode, you can hear about the challenges of a startup airline and the exciting opportunities of operating an airline in Bermuda. How does Coral Jet establish a good operational habit and save on operational costs in the vastness of the Atlantic? Learn about the capabilities and the value of proactive fuel savings and flight data analysis tools such as FLYHT’s FuelSense software and AFIRS solutions.

Thanks so much for joining us this week. Want to hear more exciting topics on aviation? Tune in to our next episode of FLYHT’s JumpSeat!


Podcast Transcript

Intro: 0:02

Hop on the JumpSeat podcast with FLYHT, as we talk to aviation leaders, entrepreneurs, and innovators, as they make their airline operations safer, more profitable, and friendlier for passengers and the environmental alike. Come along for the ride, as we discuss how game changing technology, such Big Data, AI, and 5G impact how airlines deal with their ever changing and challenging business.

Chris: 0:28

Hello everybody and welcome to another addition of the JumpSeat. My name is Chris Glass, I am a product owner with FLYHT Aerospace and I’m here with Wes Gardner. Wes, how are you doing today?

Wes: 0:41

Yeah, great, Chris! Thanks for having me out.

Chris: 0:44

Now, where are we calling you from? We’re calling in Calgary. Where are you located right now?

Wes: 0:50

Yeah, I’m in a much warmer place than Calgary at the moment, I’m at home in Bangkok, actually.

Chris: 0:56

Fantastic! So tell me a little bit about yourself.

Wes: 1:00

Yeah, well, I’m not far — grew up not far from you guys just up in Edmonton, just out of Edmonton. So I’m a Canadian Alberta boy. I grew up there and started my flying career very young. I wanted to be a pilot ever since I remember speaking with my grandfather who was a PBY captain in the Royal Air Force. So right from, as far back as I can remember, I wanted to be in aviation, I wanted to be a pilot. And I just about never finished high school because I bought a share in a flying club. And I was known to skip a few classes in high school, trying to build my hours and get my licenses. Eventually, made my way up north after high school and started working in the bush, flying for some Canadian companies like Kenn Borek Air and Green Airways up in Red Lake and spent a lot of time crafting my trade up in the north and floats, and skis, and tundra tires, and then took a bit of a right turn and ended up in the Maldives flying Twin Otters for Kenn Borek Air. And since then, which was back in 2005, I’ve been in Asia ever since. Just kind of working my way up through different aircrafts. I did some work for the UN in Africa on a Dash 7, which was a company that was actually a customer of FLYHT back then — this is in 2007, 2008. And then eventually made my way to Macau, China. And then back to the Maldives again, where I helped start up an airline where we were, again, a customer of FLYHT with the AFIRS, the original (AFIRS) 228, or the 220, sorry, and use the fuel program, the fuel management program, the predecessor to FuelSense. And yeah, so that’s brought me all the way to Thailand, and now I’ve had this opportunity to get involved in a startup in Bermuda, and that’s what we’re working on now, and we’re going to be another customer of FLYHT.

Chris: 3:05

Well, we do appreciate you keep coming back to us! Was the first time, back in Africa, when you were first exposed to FLYHT?

Wes: 3:13

Yeah, we had, you know, there was a fleet of Dash 7 and we had a little laptop that was just right beside the first officer, just a little guy and we had some free text messaging there. So, we were able to send our OOOIs to our dispatch up in North Bay and yeah, it worked great. It was my first exposure to any kind of connectivity in an airplane, and everything in a Dash 7 is all “steam-driven”, right. So, and then now we’ve got this laptop beside us where we can be in the deep part of Africa and the jungle and we were still connected to our dispatch in North Bay in Ontario. It was it was eye-opening for me. It was pretty cool, actually.

Chris: 3:59

So from Africa to the Maldives, to Thailand, and now onto your latest adventure, why don’t you tell me a little bit about that?

Wes: 4:07

Coral Jet will be the first airline to be based out of Bermuda. I got welcomed into the group probably 9 or 10 months ago, and we’ve been just working diligently on putting all the pieces in place to get the AOC. We’re currently well into the AOC certification process, submitting manuals. We’re doing some recruitment of crews right now, building out the team, hope to move into some offices here pretty shortly and with all things going well, we should have our AOC by April to May timeframe this year.

Chris: 4:46

Excellent! And what a cool country to be operating out of a lot of people don’t know how far away from the rest of the Caribbean that Bermuda actually is.

Wes: 4:59

Yeah, we’re kind of out in the middle of nowhere there in the Atlantic. The closest place is about two hours away and that would probably be Nantucket, just in Massachusetts. But yeah, it’s a beautiful island. There’s about 70,000 people that live there, but obviously the tourist industry i s quite big. It’s a great place for an airline just geographically, (especially) in the future, once we start looking at expansion into possibly trans-Atlantic flying and down into South America. So it’s going to be a great operation. We’ve got a great team we’re putting together. It’s going to be a lot of fun!

Chris: 5:46

Oh, that’s really cool. And it’s definitely one of the islands I really want to get myself on one of these days soon. So when you get started, I’m going to have to come and visit you.

Wes: 5:56

Yeah, well, the door will always be open Chris, we love having visitors so…

Chris: 6:01

Well, that’s exciting! With everything that’s going on in the world with the pandemic and the effect it’s had on airlines, what a fun time to be starting an airline. How do you think COVID-19 is going to affect the launch of Coral Jet and the industry as a whole?

Wes: 6:21

Well, I hope that we’re starting to come out of it. I hope we’re starting to see the end of it. So, if you see around the industry, most of the major airlines are all recalling their pilots that were on furlough — lots of airlines are doing new hiring. So, that usually indicates that there is going to be a shift here. And I think our timing is going to be pretty good. The Bermudian government is pretty keen on obviously boosting their tourist industry, and so we’d like to be a part of that somehow. Cargo is also still pretty big, cargo into the Caribbean and into Bermuda. I mean, obviously on these island nations, everything has to be flown in for the most part, right? So I think we’re set up pretty good timing-wise to take advantage of the opportunity as we come out of this pandemic.

Chris: 7:19

Right, and being a startup, it gives you the freedom to not fall into that trap of “we’ve always done it this way”, or “this is the way this airline or that airline in particular has always operated”. How do you feel about the freedom of being able to start an airline in a bit of a different fashion and to kind of reimagine things?

Wes: 7:45

Yeah, well, you know, there’s two ways I look at (starting up an) airline — there’s the startup, and then there’s the actual running of the operation once you have the AOC. This would be my third startup. I enjoy building something because, like you say, you’re starting from a clean sheet of paper. So, we’re able to put into place infrastructure and systems that will allow us to start off and develop good habits, which is part of the reason why we’ve come back to FLYHT again, is to use some of your systems and your products to help us build those good habits — FuelSense, the Real-time Exceedance Reporting, Engine Trend Monitoring — all these things are going to allow us to be more efficient, develop good habits, and effectively just a good operating airline with proper procedures and starting off from the beginning, it’s just a great opportunity to put everything in the right place at the right time.

Chris: 8:53

Right, so you said something there that I want to kind of get you to expand on a little bit — you were talking about real-time data and real-time information — how does that help you as an airline operator when you’re able to get your data in real time, in a way that you can consume it?

Wes: 9:10

Well, obviously in an airline, there’s a lot of decision making, right? Every day, every hour, you’re always making decisions that are going to affect the course of the day, the week, the month, the crewing — everything. So if we have real-time information that allows us to make better decisions. The engine exceedances, for example, for which I’m familiar with from a previous operation, it literally saved us hundreds of thousands of dollars because we had the ability to see a deterioration of an engine that was not yet at the manufacturer’s limits to investigate. So, we had have set our triggers a little bit higher than the manufacturer’s triggers, and it allowed us to look into the engine. We determined that there w as a deterioration of a part, a component, and we were able to mitigate that, change it out and continue flying the engine. Had we not done that? You know, who knows? We may have had a serious issue with an engine, and that was operating into an island destination, like the Maldives. It’s not easy to get an engine into an island destination. In Bermuda there’s one wide body aircraft that comes in and they don’t carry aircraft engines with them, right? So at that point, you’re now chartering a freighter or some sort of military aircraft to bring in you a replacement engine. So just being able to ensure against that sort of a risk, it’s worth the small amount of money that it takes to have that functionality and that ability for us to make those types of decisions.

Chris: 10:56

Yeah, when you can get those avoidable costs out of your operation ahead of time, that really does give you a big advantage.

Wes: 11:05

Especially being a small operation, right? We are not going to have a huge fleet to start with. So we have to take care of the airplanes that we have, we can’t afford to have aircrafts go down for a long period of time.

Chris: 11:18

Yeah, especially if you want to optimize your schedule and have your aircraft utilization on the higher end, you can’t afford to really have that downtime.

Wes: 11:27

No, absolutely. You’re a hundred percent correct.

Chris: 11:30

So you touched on one of our products that we’re coming out with for software and Actionable Intelligence called FuelSense. FuelSense helps you reduce your controllable fuel burn. How do you feel that’s going to help you at Coral Jet?

Wes: 11:49

Well, in terms of cost savings, yes, I’m sure there will be some cost savings, but with only two aircrafts, it’s probably not a huge savings. But where it does help us is we can see, along with our flight data analysis, we can see where we may be a little bit slow on correcting things. Things like dragging in approaches, when you are putting gear down, when you’re putting your final flap setting down. As long as you’re stabilized, that’s great, but you don’t want to do it too early because now that you’re burning extra fuel. So, it’s going to help us develop some good habits that we can take back to our training to department and say, “here guys, here’s some additional data to the flight data analysis and we would like to try and be a little bit more efficient in these areas”. So we see it as more than just a cost savings tool, but it’s going to be more of a proactive tool in making sure that we have good habits when we’re flying the aircraft.

Chris: 12:53

Right, and as a startup it’s easier to get those habits started when you only have two, three, four, or five planes versus a fleet of a hundred, a hundred-eighty, that kind of thing where attitudes and habits are harder to change.

Wes: 13:09

Yeah, for sure. I’m sure you guys are aware it’s tough for companies, especially large companies, to introduce new systems and infrastructure because it’s a lot of people having to jump onto the same page at the same time, and often that doesn’t go very smoothly. So, if we can start this from the beginning and kind of set an ethos of how we want to operate, then I think the guys are going to be more comfortable, they’re going to enjoy their job a little bit more, they’re not going to feel stressed. And it just works out for everyone.

Chris: 13:46

Right. One of the other challenges that we’re hearing from some of our customers in Europe and North America are regulations around emissions and greenhouse gases. How do you feel that may affect Coral Jet in the future? And how do you think FuelSense could help you with that?

Wes: 14:05

Well, we don’t have the same ETS trading schemes as the EU has, so we don’t have that to contend with. But obviously, the more efficient you are at operating aircraft, the less fuel you burn and thus less emissions that you’re putting out into the environment, so it definitely helps for sure. It gives you that visibility of how you’re operating the airplane and you can make adjustments through training, through information to the crews. It just allows them to operate a little bit more efficiently.

Chris: 14:40

One question I had just out of curiosity for myself — I actually didn’t have it written down in my notes — but you say this is your third startup airline?

Wes: 14:49

It is. Yes.

Chris: 14:51

So what advice would you have to somebody who wanted to start an airline?

Wes: 14:56

Well, you don’t always get what you want, so you have to have a strong plan in the beginning and you have to be able to be adaptable. Obviously, you want to find a project that’s sufficiently funded and everyone is on the same page and you’re allowed to do your job. Yeah, every startup’s different, there’s no cookie cutter approach to this. I mean, even some of these franchise airlines, like Air Asia and whatnot, they’re operating in different regulatory environments, so there are slight changes. Yeah, it’s really a process, I think, where you have guidelines that you have to follow there’s strict regulation in terms of manuals and documentation and whatnot. But at the end of the day, there’s still a lot of room for you to really design how you want the airline to look and every time it’s different. Being adaptable and flexible and being able to adjust to changes is probably the biggest advice that I could give.

Chris: 16:04

And here at FLYHT, we want to help you be adaptable and adjust to those changes as you see them with some of the tools that we have for you.

Wes: 16:11

Yeah, well, my experience so far with FLYHT has been nothing but great. You know, everyone that’s come to see us, and I’ve been to the offices there a couple of times, everyone is great to deal with. Everyone is always welcome and friendly and response time is great, customer service is good. So yeah, I definitely don’t have an issue with FLYHT.

Chris: 16:34

One last question, before I let you get back to your morning and we get back to our evening here in Calgary. So, you’ve gone from Edmonton to Macau, to Thailand — you’ve seen it all you’ve seen the world — where’s your favorite place in the world? Where do you like to spend your time on vacation?

Wes: 16:55

I like to roam around. We don’t, the family, we don’t usually go to the same place more than once or twice very often. I spent 13 years in the Maldives. If you have the opportunity to go hang out at a resort in the Maldives, I highly recommend it. We’ve been to a number of resorts there and they’re amazing. I expect Bermuda is going to be very similar in that it’s a big destination. I like being in the mountains — I don’t think I have a favorite place to be honest with you, Chris. I’ve spent a lot of time in the tropics though, so it’s easy to pick some places around here in Asia that are, they’re pretty beautiful. But also back home in Canada, in the summertime, it’s pretty tough to beat. The winter time, I’ll leave that for you guys.

Chris: 17:52

. So it seems like as long as there’s warm weather at a beach, you’re going to be happy.

Wes: 17:57

Yeah, no, I’m okay with the hot weather. I spent my fair share of time up in Inuvik, and Aklavik, and Resolute Bay in the middle of winter, you know, 24-hour darkness, minus 45°C weather — yeah, I’m okay here. It’s minus, it’s not minus, it’s plus 30°C out today, it’s 10 o’clock this morning. I’m okay with that. I’ll take it any day.

Chris: 18:22

I had to shovel my walk yesterday, so I don’t think that’s fair, but that’s okay. I’m done with my questions for you. I’m very excited that you’re coming back to FLYHT as a customer and looking forward to seeing Coral Jet out of Bermuda and maybe getting down to Bermuda and checking out the operation one day. And I’d really like to thank you for the time you spent with us today. It’s been my pleasure getting to know you a little bit better and I can’t wait to meet in person.

Wes: 18:51

Yeah, Chris, like I said, you guys are always welcome to come over to Bermuda. It’s not far, it’s one connection through Toronto and you’re there. So we’ll have cold ones waiting for you when you get off the airplane.

Chris: 19:04

Now, does Bermuda have its own beer? I know a lot of the Caribbean destinations like Barbados has Banks beer, does Bermuda have their own brand?

Wes: 19:16

Well, to be honest, I haven’t been to the island yet. I’m going there at the end of the month. I have not heard of the local beer, but I have heard of some rum that’s apparently pretty awesome.

Chris: 19:28

Awesome! Well, thank you so much for the time today and can’t wait to see you in person.

Wes: 19:34

Thanks, Chris!

Outro: 19:36

Thanks for listening to the JumpSeat. Catch the next episode on your favorite streaming platform and follow us on LinkedIn at FLYHT.

Recent Podcasts

May 21, 2024

#14 FLYHT COHOST Affordability and the Future of Ultra Low-Cost Carriers in Canada

Listen Now
May 13, 2024

#13 Dive Into Blockchain and AI’s Impact on Industries with Lorne Sugarman on The Jump Seat!

Listen Now
Apr 26, 2024

#12 Aviation Evolution: A Flight Through History and Accessibility with Lorne Mackenzie

Listen Now