Tag Archives: Mesa Air Group

Pssst-Wanna Buy A Regional Jet Cheap?

22 May

American Eagle Embraer ERJ-145s at DFW Airport. Photo by Benet J. Wilson

I covered the regional aviation industry from 1993 to 2001.  During that time, I watched as regional carriers grew up and became almost mirror images of their larger airline partners.

I had a front row seat to the rise of the 50-seat regional jet.  The big players were Canada’s Bombardier, with its CRJ and Brazil’s Embraer ERJ-145.  The major airlines wanted them for several reasons.  One, they were constrained by pilot scope clauses that didn’t allow regional pilots to fly larger jets. Two, they saw the jets as a way bring service to cities that weren’t quite big enough for larger jet or even do some point-to-point hub bypass service.

During the RJ frenzy heyday, regional carriers couldn’t sign contracts fast enough.  Cincinnati-based Comair led the pack, becoming the U.S. launch customer for the CRJ, while Continental Express was the same for the ERJ-145.  Mesa Air Group (my former employer) became the first regional to operate both types in its fleet.

But now, regionals can’t get rid of them fast enough as fuel costs made them more expensive to operate and major airlines began cutting traditional RJ routes.  You can read my May 1 interview in Aviation International News with my former boss, Jonathan Ornstein, on how this affected Mesa.

So where are all those RJs going? An April 30 story in AIN sister publication Business Jet Traveler reports that the current RJ glut “presents a rare opportunity to acquire a relatively new large-cabin jet at near-turboprop prices.”  I wrote a blog post in Aviation Week’s Business Aviation Now on Sept. 11, 2009 on Dubai-based Project Phoenix, a company that turns CRJ-200s into VIP business jets.

According to BJT, by the end of 2011, nearly 400 RJs were grounded in the U.S., many of them less than 10 years old, including BAE 146/Avros; Bombardier CRJ100s, 200s and 900s; Dornier/Fairchild 328Jets; Fokker 100s; and Embraer ERJ-135/145s. And, the publication notes, the Chapter 11 filing of American Airlines could see hundreds more ERJs in the American Eagle fleet be put into storage.

If you’re looking for a pretty nice aircraft that is a little slower but tougher than the average business jet at a bargain basement price, a converted CRJ might be for you.  For a mere $10 million, according to BJT, you can have one with “all the bells and whistles,” with a range of 3000nm carrying eight passengers and bags.  A similarly sized super mid-sized jet, like the Bombardier Challenger 605 (a loose cousin of the CRJ) could cost  more than double.

The bigger question is what will happen to all those smaller regional jets?  Is there enough of a market for them to be a strong alternative to a new business jet? Is there a market for these aircraft in other parts of the world, including China, Africa and South America? Only time will tell.

Airlines Clamour for SUX Service

22 Nov

Back during my stint at Phoenix-based regional carrier Mesa Air Group, we were always being inundated with presentations on why cities wanted our service, along with invitations to come to their communities.  One visit stood out to me — the shindig thrown by South Dakota’s Sioux Falls Regional Airport (FSD).  At that time the city was the home of Gateway Computers, along with other local businesses.

The city was wooing Mesa to offer service to Denver via Frontier JetExpress or Phoenix via America West Express.  So a group of us, including several VPs and schedulers, went to the city for what we thought was going to be a small gathering.  When we arrived, the mayor and the airport director were there to give us a tour of the facility, outlining what they could do for us.  Then we were whisked away to a lunch that turned out to be 300 of the city’s movers and shakers, all there to convince us that not only did they want our service, they were ready to do whatever it took to keep it.

I write all this to say I had a feeling of deja vu when I read this article on the KCAUTV.com website on how SkyWest Airlines and American Eagle were duking it out to offer two  daily Essential Air Service (EAS) flights out of Sioux Gateway Airport (SUX) to either Minneapolis or Chicago O’Hare, respectively.  Eagle currently has the service, but has been chided by the city over reliability issues.

But I guess they weren’t bad enough, because the city chose American Eagle again to offer two flights a day to O’Hare, reports FOX 44.  The recommendation now goes to the Dept. of Transportation for review.

Santa Barbara Airport Unveils New Terminal

25 Aug

Back in the summer of 2001, I quit my job as an aviation journalists to become Director of Corporate Communications and Community Relations for Mesa Air Group, based in Phoenix.  The job had been empty for a while, so I had a lot of work to do.

One of the first things I needed to do was update the company’s photo files, which included the airline’s executives, aircraft and airports.  I wanted to do an aircraft photo shoot at a unique airport in the Mesa system, and the person who found me a great photographer also suggested we shoot at Santa Barbara Airport.  I was game, because I would have gone anywhere to escape Phoenix’s 110+ degree heat.

So we hopped the flight to SBA, and I fell in love.  The terminal, originally built in 1942, back then had this old-school, 1930s Spanish architecture vibe that I thought was stunning.  And the terminal had the beach and the ocean in the front and mountains in the back.  I was completely charmed.

The old Santa Barbara Airport Terminal Photo courtesy of the City of Santa Barbara

So imagine my alarm when I heard that the city was going to build a new terminal.  I understand why — they needed to bring it up to standards with new baggage and passenger screening equipment, and give airlines more room to breathe.

The New Santa Barbara Airport Terminal Photo courtesy of the City of Santa Barbara

The new terminal is 72,000 square feet, with passenger amenities past security and FREE WiFi throughout the building.  And I think the new building pays homage to the old one, with a modern twist.  In the old terminal, you boarded outside with air stairs, making me feel a bit like Eva Peron.  The new building has jet bridges for larger planes and ground boarding for smaller ones.  And the facility was built for a relative bargain, $54 million.

So where are some of the more unique airport terminals you’ve visited? What makes them special to you?

Delta’s Small Community Air Service Cuts – Justified?

22 Jul

Talk about timing! The same day that guest blogger Nate Vallier wrote about the Essential Air Service (EAS) program, Delta Air Lines (my former employer) announced it was cutting service to 24 small communities (see this story in the New York Times).  And you all know about my feelings on EAS, which I posted about here.

I’m a regular reader — and big fan — of the Jaunted blog. But I must disagree with their premise in this post, Totally SUX: Delta Set to End Service to Some Smaller Cities, although I do love the headline (and remind me to blog sometime about my day flying into SUX).  And there were quite a few more stories from local communities lamenting the loss of their flights.

I wrote stories about EAS for almost 10 years and I worked for an airline that was a large provider of flights, so I’ve seen both sides of this issue.  And I have to side with Delta on this one.  When EAS was originally created, it was designed to protect small towns that would have surely lost air service after the passage of the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978.

But unfortunately, has morphed into is a program that really isn’t serving the people it was originally designed to protect.   One, communities aren’t using the service and two, airlines like Delta continue to lose money on the flights despite $200 million in federal subsidies.

Like it or not, it is not any community’s God-given right to have air service.  And like it or not, airlines like Delta are in the business to make money, and they’re not doing that flying these routes with 30-seat turboprops.

I’m not unsympathetic to these communities.  I visited a lot of them during my time at Mesa Air Group.   But if Mesa was having trouble filling a 19-seat Beech 1900D, I can only imaging what those Saab 340s are costing, which is why Delta needs to cut them.

I wish we could see a revamp and expansion of the Dept. of Transportation’s Small Community Air Service Development Program.  DOT has communities apply for up to $15 million in grants to help then develop their own air service programs.  “The core objective of the program is to secure enhancements that will be responsive to a community’s air transportation needs and whose benefits can be expected to continue after the initial expenditures,” according to DOT.

Only time will tell what will happen with EAS.  But something has to give, kids.

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