Somebody Up There Likes You'

November/December 1996

Reading time min

Somebody Up There Likes You'

Lita-Nadine Quetnick knows what you hate about air travel: cramped seating, rubbery chicken, wilted salads and outrageous fares. But unlike the rest of us, she's doing something about it. A commercial pilot with more than 20 years of flying experience, Quetnick has started her own airline. Silerair will begin flying from Long Beach, Calif., to New York City, Boston and Washington, D.C., at the end of November. Nonrestricted fares will run $400 to $500.

Since the deregulation of the airline industry in in 1978, the U.S. Department of Transportation has encouraged airline entrepeneurs. "There is a tendency to discount the effect of new carriers," says Patrick Murphy, deputy assistant secretary for aviation and international affairs. "But they have a dramatic effect on price and traffic in markets where they compete." Travelers may welcome the competition, but the 45-year-old Quetnick is under no illusions; she knows how tough it can be in today's skies.

Since 1989, 34 carriers received approval to fly, 25 actually flew, and only 18 are currently operating. So what's the secret to success in the blue yonder? Quetnick believes she can succeded by catering to weary, cross-country fliers. Silverair emphasizes service. Its motto, "Somebody up there likes you," translates to extra leg room and healthy food, while still keeping fares competitive.

How can Quetnick afford to do it? She explains that two major airline expenses are the cost of handling a plane when it is on the ground and the fuel and maintenance resulting from frequent takeoffs and landings. With only long flights, Silverair can offer lower fares because it won't have to compensate for shorter, less cost-efficient hops.

Quetnick earned her wings at the Stanford Flying Club. She later flew for Air Ambulance, carrying cargo such as hearts for transplant and premature babies, and then spent two and a half years in Europe as a pilot for Pan Am. When the company went bankrupt, she returned to the United States and flew for a charter company called Private Jet. That's where she met an investment banker who encouraged her dream of strating a niche airline. Inspired, she went out and raised $2 million from investors, and Sterling One made its first flight from Long Beach to Chicago on December 7, 1995. But Quetnick was forced to suspend service six weeks later because of a dispute with the company contracted to oversee aircraft safety and handling.

Quetnick's plans got new life in August when a publicly traded company which she does not wish to name invested $20 million. Under the name Silverair, the new airline wqs incorporated in August 22.

Quetnick has learned that survival in the airline business takes persistence and flexibility. "There is no rational reason this company should have kept alive or stayed," Quetnick says, "other than sheer will."

You May Also Like

© Stanford University. Stanford, California 94305.