Episode 53. Airline myths and leadership lessons, with retired airline CEO Bill Ayer

Bill AyerYou have to be both realistic and optimistic to run an airline - that's according to retired Alaska Airlines CEO Bill Ayer, an industry veteran and experienced GA pilot. He offers wisdom from his four decades in the airline business, including why safety must be a data-driven activity, where the real pilot shortage is, and how to manage the tradeoffs between efficiency and safety. He also shares leadership lessons, explaining why "hope is not a strategy" when you're running a business and what young people can do to build a career in aviation. In the Ready to Copy segment, Bill tells us his favorite airplane to ride on as a passenger, whether you should drink coffee on an airliner, his opinion of supersonic airliners, and why aviation culture is so welcoming.


  • “The reality of the airline industry is that it is capital-intensive, it’s labor-intensive, it’s highly regulated, highly competitive, it’s very sensitive to the economy and especially oil prices, and it has proven to be disproportionately impact by events like 9/11 and Covid.”

  • “Being in the leadership at a major airline is a quick lesson in humility.”

  • “The secret sauce are the employees. Airlines are a team sport.”

  • Planning vs. execution: “The tendency is to continue to plan and delay the execution for fear that your plan might not be all that good. And what we learned about that was, get the plan about 80% right… and then just get out there and start executing.”

  • General aviation compared to the 1970s: “It’s changed for the better from a pilot perspective… It’s still a very good time for general aviation. I’m encouraged.”

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