With extensive experience as a senior executive, pilot, and attorney at airlines that include Delta, Song, Virgin America, and Silver Airways, David (Dave) Pflieger most recently served as CEO, president, and board member of Larry Ellison’s airline–Hawaii Island Air.
Prior to that, however, David Pflieger’s biggest accomplishment was the turnaround and rebranding of Air Pacific, which Dave renamed to Fiji Airways. The airline was rebranded to Air Pacific in 1970 in order to promote its South Pacific Island joint nation ownership. Unfortunately, a dated fleet, increasing losses, and intense competition to Fiji from Australian and New Zealand low cost carriers Jetstar, Virgin Australia, and Air New Zealand, who were offering cheaper flights to tourists in 2008 and 2009, caused the airline, which is majority owned by Fiji’s government, to take a major hit. The airline’s heavy reliance on the Australian and New Zealand tourist market created a perfect storm that made conditions at the struggling airline so dire that by 2010, Air Pacific reported the worst losses in its history and was almost broke.
Despite those challenges, Dave Pflieger and his new management team, led the company through a major restructuring that included cost cutting, revenue improvement, and much improved customer service – all of which combined to allow Air Pacific to bounce back into the black by 2012 – just two years later. That task complete, the airline was then renamed Fiji Airways, and it expanded its reach to US tourists, as well as those from China with its brand new fleet of Airbus A330 and Boeing 737 jets. Since 2013, with a unique new livery/paint scheme on its new planes, the company has continued to grow and achieve ever increasing record profits with an expanding fleet of new planes and more flights to Australia, New Zealand, the US, China, Singapore, and beyond.
A few days before returning to America to begin the next leg of his career at Miami-based Silver Airways, former Fiji Airways executive David Pflieger was asked to join his staff at the company’s hangar in Nadi, Fiji. The event was planned as a send-off for the widely-acclaimed aviation business leader, who three years prior had accepted a contract to serve as the firm’s managing director and CEO. When Dave arrived in 2010, he faced the daunting task of leading the company out of a significant financial crisis, but he ultimately succeeded at orchestrating a turnaround that positioned Fiji Airways as a successful and internationally competitive company.
Mr. Pflieger described the privilege and honor of working with the skilled Fiji Airways team, who in turn highlighted many of the accomplishments achieved under his leadership. With David Pflieger at the helm, the airline brought in $16.5 million in annual profits just a few years after reporting losses of $91.8 million. Behind this impressive renewal were improvements to customer service and reliability, which included a large investment in the airline’s new fleet—the first-ever fleet of purchased wide-body aircraft. Fiji Airways also increased its investment in its employees, establishing first-ever performance-incentive and profit-sharing programs.
One of the more noteworthy changes introduced during the Fiji Airways turnaround was the establishment of a corporate social responsibility program. In addition to formalizing the airline’s commitment to causes such as the Foundation for Rural Integrated Enterprises and Development (FRIEND) and the Mamanuca Environment Society, the initiative led to the development of Fiji’s first-ever community health & wellness clinic.
The numerous improvements spearheaded by Mr. Pflieger during his time at Fiji Airways helped it to establish a global reputation for performance quality and customer service. During his tenure, the airline received its first accolades from Condé Nast Traveler, making the publication’s list of the Top 10 Small Airlines for two consecutive years.
An airline committed to corporate social responsibility, Virgin America maintains a strong commitment to nonprofits in and around its Northern California headquarters. They include Stand Up to Cancer (SU2C), which raises funds for interdisciplinary research into cancer treatments. SU2C’s fundraising work is notable in that it attempts to enable researchers to work collaboratively, thus minimizing the duplication of effort and moving the research cycle forward more quickly. In addition, it promotes higher-stakes research projects that could have a significant impact.
As part of its deep involvement in the Bay Area community, Virgin America supports San Francisco Animal Care and Control, which works to find homes for neglected and abused dogs and cats. Over the past six years, the airline has flown dozens of Chihuahua puppies from its San Francisco hub across the country and into the waiting arms of their new families.
Virgin’s other nonprofit partners include Make-A-Wish Greater Greater Bay Area, one of the largest chapters of the national group, which grants special wishes to children with terminal illnesses. Through Make-A-Wish, Virgin has hosted numerous children and their families as VIP guests aboard flights to their chosen destinations.
Virgin America made history in 2009 by becoming the first American airline to commit to reporting its greenhouse gas emissions. The California-based airline announced its decision to join the Climate Registry, a nonprofit organization dedicated to standardizing the accurate measurement and reporting of carbon emissions, joining a diverse group of environmentally conscious organizations that now total over 300. Overseen by a board of directors comprising a number of North American states and provinces, the Climate Registry collects greenhouse gas emissions data from its member organizations on a yearly basis, holding each to the same comprehensive and transparent reporting standards.
As the only airline based in California, Virgin America took a natural interest in weaving sustainable practices into the heart of its business operations, noted David Pflieger, then Virgin America’s senior vice president of legal, government affairs, and sustainability. Previously, Dave Pflieger guided Virgin America to become a pioneer of sustainability in October 2008, when the passenger airline became the first in its sector to take part in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Climate Leaders initiative. Due to its more recent commitment to the Climate Registry, the airline bolstered its sustainability efforts by agreeing to provide more extensive emissions reports that reflect adherence to the registry’s heightened guidelines.
The strict monitoring and transparent reporting of greenhouse gas emissions is just one of many sustainable initiatives adopted by Virgin America, which has operated with a commitment to environmental sustainability since its inception in 2007. In addition to emissions-reducing innovations such as single engine taxing, cost index flying, and advanced avionics, the carrier introduced a new fleet of Airbus A320 aircraft boasting 25 percent more C02 efficiency than comparable fleets.