Billy Nolen Says Goodbye Qantas Hello WestJet

Unless you are a freshly minted incoming CEO, job-hopping in the aviation industry doesn’t often make the news. But Captain Billy Nolen, a senior Qantas manager, is making the jump to WestJet and is attracting some attention in the process.

Billy Nolen, an established aviation professional, is switching from Qantas to WestJet. Photo: WestJet.

A stellar 30-year career in aviation

Captain Nolen was the Executive Manager of Group Safety and Health at Qantas. His new role at WestJet will be Vice President, Safety, Security and Quality. Captain Nolen’s role at WestJet will commence at the end of February 2020. He’ll be swapping the tail end of a Sydney summer for the tail end of a Calgary winter.

According to reporting in Australian Aviation, Captain Nolen built a career at American Airlines before transferring to Qantas. At American Airlines he worked as the Managing Director, Corporate Safety and Regulatory Affairs. Captain Nolen has also worked at the Senior Vice President of Safety, Security and Operations at Airlines for America.

Captain Billy Nolen. Photo: WestJet.

An already stellar 30-year career is further polished by a stint in the United States Army as an Aviation Safety Officer. Captain Nolen completed several tours of duty flying fixed and rotary winged aircraft.

In a statement, Captain Nolen said,

“I look forward to being part of the WestJet team and further strengthening its safety culture across its growing global network.”

The new role at WestJet

In his new job, WestJet says Captain Nolen will be overseeing the strategic direction of all safety, security and quality-related activities across WestJet, WestJet Encore and WestJet Link. WestJet’s President and CEO, Ed Sims, said in a statement;

“Billy is a results-driven safety leader with an impressive record of accomplishments in aviation.

“As WestJet continues our evolution to a network carrier with broader global reach, Billy’s experience in upholding the safety culture of some of the world’s safest airlines will greatly benefit our continued commitment to safety above all. We are excited to have Billy join our team.”

Big cultural and strategic differences at WestJet

The new job will be a homecoming of sorts for Captain Nolen who originally hails from the United States. But there are big cultural and strategic differences between a long-haul legacy airline like Qantas and a reasonably new and growing airline like WestJet.

The Calgary based airline started flying in 1996, operating as a low-cost carrier. When measured by passengers carried, WestJet is the ninth biggest airline in North America. It flew over 25 million passengers in 2018. WestJet now has 125 aircraft and flies to over 100 domestic and international destinations.

A fleet of 13 grounded MAX aircraft is just one issue WestJet has to deal with. Photo: WestJet.

That all sounds great, but the last couple of years haven’t all been smooth for WestJet. The airline has segued from a low-cost carrier to a full-service carrier. It has launched international services, seen turnover in its senior executive ranks. There has also been significant industrial action.

The airline had net earnings of nearly USD$90 million in the third quarter of 2019.

Captain Nolen has work cut out for him

But WestJet isn’t taking its foot off the accelerator. Two days ago, the airline announced a raft of new flights out of its Calgary base. These include new services to Boston, Charlotte and Dawson Creek. According to WestJet, it is all part of a wider plan for WestJet to “continue on its strategic path of becoming a global network airline.”

All of which suggests Billy Nolen has his work cut out for him at his new job.