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Purser: Comeback Kid?

Despite Jetsgo’s stunning collapse, Michel Leblanc hopes to try, try again.


October 1, 2007
By Richard Purser

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In the dictionary that this editor swears by (Merriam- Webster’s
Collegiate, 11th Edition), that wonderful Yiddish derived word
‘chutzpah’ is defined as: “supreme self confidence: NERVE, GALL: ant.,
see TEMERITY.” Take your choice, but one of these versions must surely
apply to Michel Leblanc’s efforts to revive his airline Jetsgo so soon
after it shut down suddenly the night of March 11, stranding passengers
across the country.

The
collapse came three months before the third anniversary of Jetsgo’s
startup. In the days preceding its decease, Jetsgo announced
forthcoming expansions in its services out of Halifax and in Western
Canada, including 10 flights each weekday between Calgary and
Vancouver. Ads appeared in newspapers touting the new flights right up
until March 11 itself.

But there had been ominous signs. Jetsgo
had ceased reporting its monthly traffic figures in December; it was
caught short by a storm in Toronto just before Christmas, and announced
plans to increase airport staff and call centre service to better
handle passengers affected by such situations; the next month, one of
its planes veered off a runway while landing at Calgary and then took
off again from the grass before finally circling to land safely,
triggering a Transportation Safety Board investigation; in February
Transport Canada, citing deficiencies in the airline’s operating
manuals, temporarily revoked its certificate to fly at the
fuel-efficient altitudes above 28,000 feet. At the end of February,
federal Air Travel Complaints Program figures showed that customer
complaints about Jetsgo had nearly quadrupled in 2004, to 160 (only 11
complaints were received about much larger WestJet). And in early March
a couple of engine problems attracted investigators’ attention. Then
came the sudden shutdown, leaving 17,000 passengers abandoned and 1,200
employees receiving midnight dismissal notices as the airline sought
court protection from creditors. It later became known that the night
before its demise, Jetsgo had quietly deadheaded a number of its planes
to Quebec City to be stashed out of easy reach of creditors, who
included a number of the airports where it operated. When it went down,
Jetsgo had lost $55 million since the previous June 30; its liabilities
to creditors were $108 million or more.

Post-bankruptcy
machinations are ongoing, and it was unknown at press time whether
Leblanc will retain an operating certificate or be able to find
financing for any new operations. But he has that chutzpah, and the
veteran aviation entrepreneur will do whatever he can to get back in
the air. Whether anyone will want to fly with him, whether as a
scheduled or charter carrier, is an open question. Would anyone want to
lease office space in a rebuilt World Trade Center? Would anyone again
want to have breakfast in a new Windows on the World restaurant?

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Still, it seems churlish not to wish the guy luck!


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