America West Airlines
Call Sign: "Cactus" *

"You will be the highest paid pilots in the industry"  
(Former CEO, Ed Beauvais in 1987)

[Of course, we never were . . . quite the opposite!]

A Different Career

AWA B-737 in LAS First Officer

Following the demise of Pride Air, and while still awaiting a legal resolution regarding my job at Continental, I started my own consulting business. Surprisingly, it was quite successful from the beginning. But I missed flying. Of course, flying the F-14 part time in the reserves was great. But having been promoted to Commander, I knew my time flying in Navy aircraft would soon be coming to a close in the not too distant future.

While working with a defense contractor - and an old friend and former POW from our 1972 USS Midway cruise - I learned that he would soon be leaving his company. Like me, he missed flying and had applied and been hired by a new, upstart airline named America West Airlines. He kept me abreast of the airline's rapid growth and recommended I apply.

Eventually, I did, and was hired in January of 1987. It meant a large cut in income, but my wife offered to go back to teaching. I was happy with the opportunity to be flying full time again. Moreover because of the airline's rapid growth, I upgraded to Captain in a little over 12 months.

It must be noted that although it may be called "flying" for both, there really is no relationship, nor can there be any comparison between flying as a Navy aircraft carrier fighter pilot and flying as an airline pilot. B-757 The two professions exist in entirely separate and different universes. Any comparison of the two is illogical. The skills required of each are hardly similar, nor interchangeable. Nevertheless, although hardly equal, both can still be challenging, enjoyable, and rewarding, each in their own separate and unique ways.

For a while my two flying careers delightfully overlapped. I had the best of both worlds - flying both as a commercial B-737/300 airline pilot and as a Navy Reserve F-14A fighter pilot, concurrently. Then, when my 21 years of active and reserve naval service came to an end, I was most fortunate at that point to be able to continue on with my airline flying career to the present day.

Nevertheless while I enjoyed airline flying, it naturally lacked the competitiveness and challenge I had so grown accustomed to as a Navy fighter pilot. Perhaps that is why I accepted a position with our pilots' union, ALPA. Pilot Negotiations

When asked to help negotiate for the Air Line Pilot Association, our first ever pilot contract at America West (although it did present personal problems), I accepted. The result was the first ever labor contract at America West - a 5-year, several hundred-million dollar pact of significant pay and benefit increases. Pilot Contract, ALPA/America West Airlines Unfortunately, it still fell far short of industry standards, but it was an essential and beneficial, major first step for our pilots.

Trivia: After six months of preparation, and only a month into our pilot contract negotiations, I suffered a heart attack... on the D-Day Anniversary and my daughter's birthday, June 6, 1994.

On a day off, and after playing two extra games of pick-up basketball with guys 10 to 15 years younger at the local rec. center, I came home short of breath. While I felt fine otherwise, my daughter insisted I see a doctor. Since I was leaving the next morning for more contract negotiations, I agreed that I should be checked out ... thinking I had a bit of heat exhaustion. Anticipating only about a 45-minute visit, the hospital surprised me by keeping me overnight for observation. I am alive today because they did.

I had suffered a 'silent' heart attack with almost no symptoms, other than a brief period of shortness of breath. They said if I had not come in to the ER, I would likely have died overnight. Following more tests the next day, they performed open heart, triple bypass surgery. Six weeks later I was back into pilot labor negotiations, and when completed, I regained my flying medical certificate. Having been checked every six months for more than 15 years, I have never had even a hint of any more problems... and I still shoot hoops, weekly. Thank God for concerned daughters! . . . /Trivia

Prior to my experience in negotiating our first pilot labor contract, I had earlier assisted in finally bringing Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) representation to all our pilots, after two earlier failed attempts. Although I later shunned official union office, I was usually available and often worked with both airline and union officials in problem solving, creating a better work environment, and in improving our operations for both pilots and our passengers. Indeed my previous experience at Continental Airlines, Padres Air Travel, and Pride Air - not to mention the US Navy - gave me unique and valuable experience to assist.

Airline Executive Bonus AWA stock certificate Bill Franke, AWA CEO

As a perennial pilot advocate I also often worked upon request - both publicly and covertly - on many special projects as the need arose; and those "needs" often did arise! One involved an effort to improve safety margins, and reduce our frequent, excessive and fatiguing 16-hour duty days.

[ Excessive limits that unfortunately, even today still incredibly remain for pilots, and are worse than the safety mandated duty-time limits for interstate truck drivers and railroad train engineers! ]

One example of my efforts was a published Wall Street Journal letter I wrote concerning our fatiguing "Red-Eye Flights" during that time: (WSJ Letter to Editor).

Another was my contact with Warren Buffett seeking a "white knight" investor while our airline languished in bankruptcy. Mr Buffett gave a me kind, hand written response.

airbus captain

Over the many years of flying with America West Airlines (and now post-merger with the America West takeover of USAirways), I did have many enjoyable experiences, and great co-workers. However, when compared to my years and many experiences flying as a Navy fighter pilot, flying in harm's way off of aircraft carriers, my airline career although enjoyable, proved to be relatively mundane and unremarkable.

America West Cactus

And that is exactly how I wanted it!

It is precisely how it should be in the airline business – nothing unusual.

Anyway, I already had had enough excitement for one lifetime, without adding anything to it.

Indeed I became quite happy, content, and proud in the safe, smooth, and efficient transport of my nearly two million + special airline passengers that I routinely carried and served to the best of my ability over the many years, despite the very rare challenge - and all without incident.


And to their credit, my many expert and dedicated flight deck and cabin crew-members made sure any unwanted "excitement" was always kept to a minimum, too. And I indeed thank them for that!

America West *   "Cactus"   -   America West Airlines' original Air Traffic Control (ATC) call-sign was merely, "America West" followed by the aircraft's flight number. However, with other airlines having "west" also within their call-signs - i.e. Southwest, Northwest, Skywest, etc., this led to some confusion on ATC frequencies. The FAA suggested a change.

Therefore, a company contest was had to find a new, ATC call-sign. "Cactus" was the winner, reflecting the headquarters of America West Airlines (now USAirways) in Phoenix, Arizona which is surrounded by cactus.

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