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Location: Kailua, Hawaii, United States

Peter Forman is the author of Wings of Paradise, Hawaii's Incomparable Airlines, a 400 page hardcover available online at www.airlinesofhawaii.com .

Friday, March 02, 2007






Mesa Air Group Sues Aloha Airlines Pilot Mike Uslan

Hawaii's interisland air war has taken a new twist with the parent company for go! airlines filing a lawsuit against Aloha pilot Mike Uslan. The lawsuit alleges that Uslan has illegally harmed the airline through Uslan's involvement in the website www.dontflygo.com . For a look at the charges and for Mike Uslan's point of view, visit www.mesavsuslan.com .

Two separate actions are underway against Uslan. The first is related to the Hawaiian Airlines vs. Mesa lawsuit which goes to court this fall. GCW Garfield Consultants, which has been working for Mesa (Nasdaq: MESA) , is attempting to require Uslan to turn over virtually all his emails which relate to an organization of airline employees known as H.E.R.O. Uslan has already replied that none of the emails are related to the HAL vs. Mesa litigation, and Uslan is working to limit the scope of the inquiry. Uslan believes that Mesa and its allies are attempting to use the HAL vs. Mesa litigation as an excuse to sift through his emails in the hopes of finding anything that can be used against Uslan or others who oppose Mesa.

The second legal action is brought by Mesa against Uslan and seeks punitive damages and an injunction to halt the www.dontflygo.com website. Through his invovlement with H.E.R.O., Uslan has been a vocal critic of Mesa. Uslan says that new owners now run the www.dontflygo.com website, and he is not responsible for its content. The Aloha pilot believes that Mesa is trying to put pressure on him personally in the hope that it will result in a court action or a voluntary effort to shut down www.dontflygo.com .

Mesa has previously used lawsuits against individuals to quiet contrary opinions. Airline analyst Holly Hegeman backed down after Mesa filed a threatening lawsuit, and most likely Mesa officials expected Uslan to do the same. For an individual to fight a wealthy corporation such as Mesa in court, the financial burden is usually so great that the individual eventually throws in the towel. The facts of the case never get heard and the large corporation wins through financial muscle. Uslan appears resolute that he will fight this legal attack, however. He previously flew as a pilot for Mesa, he didn't like the culture at that airline and left, eventually he landed his dream job flying for Aloha, and now his former employer is in town gunning to put his current employer out of business. Mike Uslan regards Mesa as a ghost he can't escape, and he's hopeful that with enough resistance from people such as himself, Mesa will eventually pack its bags and leave the Hawaiian Islands for good.

Uslan and his nemesis at Mesa, CEO Jonathan Ornstein, ironically share a common characteristic. Neither likes to back down from a fight. For this reason, we can expect a rocky road ahead as the two sides ratchet up the pressure. Mesa will threaten financial doom, and Uslan will make the fight as public as possible, giving Mesa even more embarrassing publicity. Stay tuned.

4 Comments:

Blogger SJF Hawaii said...

Now this is an interesting fold in the ongoing airline war of Hawaii circa 2007.

Previously, individuals would more-or-less keep out of the war all together, allowing the airlines (Aloha, Hawaiian, Mid Pac, Discovery, Mahalo) to battle it out at the corporate level in the courts.

With individuals coming into play, the game's afoot for someone to get seriously hurt. Unfortunately, the first casualties in any war is the individuals. However, maybe this time the underdog becomes the good guy. But what price? We might never know.

12:14 PM  
Blogger Peter Forman said...

SJF Hawaii,
This involvement of individuals is indeed a unique twist to the air battle.

The involvement of airline employees stems from at least two sources of inspiration. These individuals in the go! battle believe they can make a difference because they believe the startup airline is disseminating false information which they can successfully challenge. Remember, too, that the internet is a powerful tool for an individual, and it was not available in previous battles. The old adage rings true: The Internet changes everything.

Secondly, emotions run high in this air war because the new entrant is perceived as determined to put at least one of the current players out of business. The battle between Mid Pacific and Hawaiian Air contained seeds of this same emotion, but eventually Mid Pacific mellowed a bit and allowed for peaceful coexistence. We don't see any tendency here for go! to peacefully coexist. Its fares are so far below everyone's costs that some type of catastrophic business failure is inevitable if this battle stays its course.

6:07 PM  
Blogger SJF Hawaii said...

Peter:

Very good point about the Mid-Pac/Hawaiian tie up, and the emotions that ran in that one. Although a lot of my recollection comes from details you wrote in your book, I do remember John Higgins basically being out for blood of Hawaiian. As you said, yes, they did mellow.

As for go!, the fact of the matter is that Orenstein will not back down until either there is a reported revenue loss of Mesa, or there is a shareholder revolt in which he is booted and new leadership is put in. Do I think that will happen? Well, Mike Eisner of Disney was eventually shown the door when shareholders (Roy Disney leading them) basically held a shareholder revolt at the annual meeting.

Perhaps another strategy should be to buy stock in Mesa, become a leading minority shareholder, and then go after the leadership of Orenstein.

Now that would be a classic Trojan horse strategy!

11:48 AM  
Blogger hhegeman said...

In reference to your comment that I "backed down" to Jonathan Ornstein, I beg to differ. Quite strongly. As my legal fees will demonstrate that I racked up fighting him and his bogus lawsuits more than five years ago -- I did not back down. Nor did I ever print a retraction.

Rather, after more than a year of legal manuevers on the part of his lawyers, the suits were brought to an end -- thanks to the help of a third party. This person, another airline CEO, basically acted as an intermediary through which both parties communicated. Jonathan dropped his lawsuits, and I was left with a rather large legal bill to pay off.

So no, I did not "back down." Trust me, if I had simply backed down, I would have had much more money in my bank account after it was over.

-Holly Hegeman
Editor, Publisher
PlaneBusiness Banter
PlaneBusiness.com
PlaneBuzz.com

3:28 PM  

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