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.
From 2008 to 2010, Fiji’s Air Pacific airline experienced a period of record financial losses and significantly reduced market share. However, after just one year under new leadership, the national carrier was already showing significant signs of recovery.
In an October 2012 interview with the CAPA-Centre for Aviation, Air Pacific CEO and Managing Director David Pflieger outlined many of the airline’s recent accomplishments, as well as the various challenges left for it to surmount, as it headed into the final leg of its three-stage transformation initiative.
Among the obstacles still facing the company were fluctuating fuel costs, an unstable global economic climate, and regional competition. However, while companies such as Jetstar and Virgin Australia had recently taken a firmer hold on the sector, Dave Pflieger guided the company to solidify its position as a major international carrier, increasing the frequency of flights to major cities including Sydney, Los Angeles, and Hong Kong. One of the final stages of the massive rebranding saw the airline revert to the name it had used prior to 1958: Fiji Airways. Pflieger noted that, in addition to highlighting the firm’s role as a quality national carrier, the name change would help to position Fiji as an attractive tourism destination as its fleet traveled the globe.
David Pflieger’s accomplishments with Air Pacific, now operating as Fiji Airways, included making new investments to improve the onboarding experience and introducing new, custom-designed Airbus A330-200 aircraft to the carrier’s fleet. He also revitalized the staff with incentive plans and social responsibility initiatives, and forged a partnership with Tourism Fiji in an effort to strengthen the entire travel sector. While 2010 marked one of the airline’s worst years in over six decades of operation, the $9.2 million in profits it earned in fiscal year 2012 indicated that it was well on its way to recovery.
Fiscal year 2014 was a huge success for the Fiji Airways Group, which posted record operating profits of $60.8 million on $770 million in revenue for the year. A twofold increase over the group’s previous operating profit record that was set in 2005, the $60.8 million figure represents the dividends of a year marked by a 4.5 percent increase in passengers, a 2 percent decrease in unit cost, and an 8.2 percent increase in load factor. This success can be directly attributed to the airline’s turnaround, revitalization, and rebranding effort that was launched and completed under the leadership of Dave Pflieger, the company’s CEO and Managing Director from 2010 to late 2013.
A struggling airline operating as Air Pacific Ltd., Fiji’s national airline was in dire need of a turnaround as it entered the second decade of the 21st century. Pflieger’s strategy for success revolved around fixing the airline’s operational, customer service, and financial performance and enhancing Fiji’s international status as a tourist destination. Rebranding the airline under its previous moniker, Fiji Airways, was a key component of that strategy. The turnaround was a success, as this past year’s financial results have shown. The year 2014 represented a record-breaking one for the company, which has garnered accolades from the Fijian attorney general, who greeted the latest profit report as a “wonderful day for Fiji” and a “historic achievement.”