As CEO of Hawaiian Airlines, Mark Dunkerley is not the kind of guy who spends too much time behind the desk.
His fingerprints are on everything, from the interior design of the planes, to the type of planes they fly, to the new logos that adorn their exterior.
Make no mistake about it: aviation is in his blood. He can tell you all about the engines that fly the planes, and if called upon, could also fly one of the large passenger jets.
We spoke with Dunkerley in the cockpit of one of Hawaiian’s new A321neo airplanes and asked, in a pinch, could he take over the controls?
“Well, I think it would be much better for everybody else in the airplane if I didn’t, put it that way,” Dunkerley said with a laugh.
Truth is, he could fly the plane, but his preference is to be at the controls of a vintage Bellanca CH-300.
“It’s an 88-year-old airplane, the plane that started it all for our company,” said Dunkerley. “I get to fly our employees and their families around on the weekends, and seeing their joy and their pride at being associated with the company and being associated with this unique piece of history.”
Then there’s his other favorite way to pass the time in the sky.
“Before I came to Hawaiian Airlines, I was a serious competitor in the world of aerobatics, and I still to this day go out on weekends in a small airplane and turn the world upside down,” said Dunkerley. “It’s unique form of therapy from work,and it works pretty well.”
It’s pretty safe to Dunkerley has a cast-iron stomach, and he needed it when he took over the company 15 years ago.
Hawaiian was about to enter bankruptcy for the second time. It flew hand-me-down aircraft and was best known for being late.
“We were a company that sort of saw itself, and our own definition of ourselves, as a kind of a second-tier, second-best airline,” Dunkerley said.
Today, Hawaiian is soaring.
Passenger loads continue to grow. The company is flying the latest aircraft to a growing number of destinations. The company employs more than 6,000 workers, people he says are the backbone of the company.
“The truth of the matter is, I work with terrific people,” said Dunkerley. “We have such terrific people on the front lines, in the back office, and they’re the real heroes of the transformation of Hawaiian Airlines, and we have come a long way.”
Dunkerley takes great pride in knowing the airline is perfectly positioned to continue growing well after he steps down, something he again attributes to his employees who, like him, are passing the torch to the next generation.
“What’s so satisfying to me about that is we’ve got our experienced, more senior mechanics working with a brand new team of younger, less experienced mechanics to do a complex bit of work, which is changing two engines out,” said Dunkerley. “That’s the progress and the pride and the sense of moving forward that is so satisfying.”
Another great source of pride for Dunkerley is being in a business that not only brings the people of Hawaii together, but shares a little bit of Hawaii around the world.
“We carry this community and what it stands for out to the corners of the globe,” said Dunkerley, “and we carry the banner of Hawaii in a way that no other carrier can possibly do that.
“I love this place, and I’m a huge fan of everything about our community, and I’m an optimist about its future, and I want to have a front-row seat on seeing how our community develops in the years to come,” he added.
Dunkerley officially retires at the end of the month.