DALLAS — Although the aviation industry is predominantly male-dominated, women have gradually gained traction for senior leadership positions. Sherrexcia “Rexy” Rolle, Esq., was recently appointed President and CEO of Western Air (WU).
In 2001, her parents, Rex and Shandrice Rolle, founded the airline. WU is the largest privately owned carrier in the Bahamas, with a fleet size of seven aircraft and an employee base of over 230. According to Rexy, 75-79% of WU passengers are Bahamian, and the rest are a mix of Americans, Europeans, and Canadians.
Airways had the chance to speak with the CEO to learn more about her plans for the airline and how she expects to steer the family business.
Airways: As the new CEO of Western Air, what is your vision and plan for the airline going into 2024 and beyond?
Sherrexcia “Rexy” Rolle, Esq.: Western Air, at its core, focuses on providing quality air service throughout the islands of the Bahamas, and we’ve branched off into providing flight services between the Bahamas and South Florida. So, we want to continue with the consistent service that we’ve been able to provide for the past twenty-three years as we continue to build by expanding our roots internationally. It’s really important for me to still maintain the same familiar connection with our long-standing passengers.
We have frequent flyers that travel with us 34 times a week between islands, so as we continue to grow, it’s really important to sustain that same family feel that has been proven to work very well for us all this time.
You bring on board 15 years of experience, which includes nine years as vice president of operations and general council. How do you think your role will change? Will you continue to keep an eye on operations?
Operations is my favorite. I have played and do have a dual role for a long time on the legal side of things, and I’m sure that will continue to be something that I provide oversight. But for the most part, the operations are connected to me and the passenger experience.
I have always been a bigger-picture person in terms of looking at the overview of what passengers are experiencing and how internal operations are going. This is an extension of what I’ve been doing previously and hopefully just allows for a bit more strategy and enhancement to what we’ve already been doing.
Is there any vision of acquiring new aircraft or upgrading?
We operate the Embraer 145s, and we recently purchased the Embraer 145XRs, which offer a longer range. We are going to be looking forward to taking delivery of those aircraft in the first and second quarters of this year. We are excited to do some additional long-range charter flights, which were always requested, and this will add a little flair to the uniform fleet that we have right now.
With your routes currently limited to the Caribbean, Bahamas, and United States, where else do you hope to increase routes in 2024?
Connecting the Caribbean has always been a conversation that we revisit each year. We often get requests from various islands throughout the Eastern Caribbean or Southern Caribbean, so that is always on the table for us.
We are currently interested in revisiting Jamaica. We once used to provide that route, and it did well for quite some time, so we are looking at revisiting the Bahamas to Jamaica as well as potentially the Dominican Republic. But right now, our focus will be adding some additional routes between South Florida and the Bahamas, the first of which is a free port to Fort Lauderdale. We travel there between Nassau and Fort Lauderdale.
Should we expect long-haul flights, and what about interline partnerships?
That’s a bit far down the line for us right now. We are super committed to the Bahamas and to the region in which we provide service, but it’s certainly not off the table. There are endless opportunities down the road.
Several larger carriers currently come into the Bahamas, and many of their passengers connect with us now to go into the outer islands, so we are certainly open to exploring conversations with some larger carriers about connecting them to these islands.
What’s it like to run the airline as a family business?
If you have any idea about the family business, you know that it can be complicated and that there are so many moving dynamics. But what it does is that it makes business a bit personal in terms of feeling it more and being more passionate about it because it is connected to the people that you care about. It’s been a positive experience, but, needless to say, it’s certainly complex.
Sometimes we have differing opinions, and we talk about them first thing in the morning, but the good thing is that we tend to always get on the same page. One of us can convince the other, and that type of healthy debate and discussion is something I am grateful to have, and it’s very beneficial for us throughout.
How does it feel to be the first female CEO, in the Bahamas, of an airline in a mostly male-dominated industry at the leadership level, and what could you tell the younger generation of women who are interested in aviation?
The number one thing I always want the younger generation to know is that there’s space for you. I think there’s a lack of awareness of how many different career paths there are in aviation, particularly in the airline industry, so I always implore them to explore the various opportunities that may exist in their region. In the aviation field in general, I strongly believe in allowing your work to speak for you.
I don’t go after accolades and recognition. What I focus on is the service and what people expect, and if it’s not, then we have a lot of work to do. But I just put my head down and focused. Thankfully, we have been able to get into a stride that allows people to feel as if this is a service we can rely on and enjoy. We are sort of a no-frills airline. Our longest flight is 30 minutes, and it’s a one-class 145 jet where they hop on and are at their destination in 30 minutes.
I love providing that kind of quick, easy service and fine-tuning some of our policies that have been instrumental in our growth, like flexible ticket options. We are the only ones in the region where there are no cancellation fees, change fees, or penalties—ever. So once somebody purchases a ticket with Western Air, it’s valid for one year, and we are encouraging the idea of a frequent flyer.
How has the response been? Do you see the demand growing?
The response is always positive when we talk about our flexible ticket options. It’s an option we have had for so long, but maybe people thought we would have gotten rid of it or changed it for a specific route, particularly flying to the U.S., but we haven’t. It’s still the same way, and we have found that more and more international passengers are finding us when making their trip to the Bahamas.
They don’t want to stay in Nassau anymore. They want to explore Bimini, Grand Bahama, Exuma, Cat Island, and all these beautiful beaches that are sort of untouched by the tourist eye. So, they have been enjoying the flexible option of visiting these different islands on the days they choose. If that changes, they can change the day with no issues, so it’s been a positive experience.
Finally, Rexy advised the younger generation, particularly women, especially those of color, to lead with their work ethic and to be authentic, and that makes them equipped to do what it is they desire to do.
Featured image: Sherrexcia Rolle, also known as Rexy, serves as President, CEO & General Counsel. Photo: Western Air