For a man of whom it’s said the only thing he knew about air- lines when he got into the busi- ness was that it said “seat 16B” on his boarding pass, William “Bill” Franke has demon- strated a remarkable skill for expanding the aviation market. Tanks to Franke, more people than ever can afford to fly. And
every day, more people around the world are taking
their first airline flight.
Franke, who graduated from Stanford University,
started his career climb as CEO of Southwest Forest Industries, then as chairman of the Circle K convenience
store chain, which he restructured through bankruptcy.
At birth companies, Franke earned a reputation for being a “Mr. Fixit”—a skill he was soon to apply to the
Franke’s introduction to the airline industry came in
the early 1990s, when he was invited by Arizona’s governor to help save Phoenix-based America West, which
was in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and in danger
Ultimately, America West became part of US Airways, which merged with American Airlines. Franke,
meanwhile, pursued an aviation career that launched
the ultra-LCC business model and spawned budget
airlines around the world. After America West, Franke
became chairman of Asia-Pacific-based Tiger Airways,
then chairman of Florida-based ultra-LCC Spirit Airlines (the 2019 ATW Value Airline of the Year). His
next move was to Denver-based Frontier Airlines, where
he remains chairman.
As the managing partner of private equity company
Indigo Partners, Franke has reshaped modern air transport. Frontier, Hungary-based Wizz Air, Mexico-based
Volaris, Chile-based JetSMART and Iceland-based
WOW Air are all part of the Indigo portfolio, creating a
global network of affordable carriers.
Te ultra-LCC business has become a driving force
for overall industry growth, particularly in emerging
economies, while adding low-cost competition in established markets.
Hallmarks of a “Franke business” are airlines that
operate new, efficient aircraft, typically with a single-
type fleet to simplify crew training and maintenance.
Te airlines ensure those aircraft are highly utilized
and airborne some 12-13 hours a day; they offer lots
of point-to-point connections; and they employ an
ancillary-fee model that gives customers the option to
pay for only what they need or want to add. Proof that
it works can be seen in how legacy airlines have adapted
their business models, adding “basic economy” fares to
their offerings that seek to provide similar choices to
their customers. Tanks to Franke, the cost-conscious
traveler has the widest choice of ultra-low fares and op-
Te ultra-LCC market has become big business. In
November 2017, Indigo placed the airline industry’s
largest-ever order, for 430 Airbus narrowbodies, during
a signing ceremony at the Dubai Air Show.
Part of Franke’s success lies in the fact that he came
from outside and did not apply traditional definitions
to what is required to deliver air travel. It also lies in his
vision of providing safe, affordable and efficient travel
to people who had previously only been able to travel
by bus, car or train.
Franke has a low-key management style, but he is a
major philanthropist who has donated millions to uni-
His innovation and vision have helped set the foun-
dation for future entrepreneurs, grown the aviation in-
dustry, and made it possible for a much wider number
of people to possess a boarding pass and reach their des-
tinations quickly and safely.
The ultra-LCC business has
become a driving force for
overall industry growth.