It may be struggling but it’s not giving up. ExpressJet, which in May launched an innovative attempt at independent flying in its 50-seat Embraer RJs, has faced torrents of scepticism about its brand of branded flying. Observers and others insisted that flying regional jets in low-cost, low-fares service without a major parent to feed (and be fed by) is doomed, and they point to earlier attempts by Atlantic Coast, which tried with a short-lived carrier called Independence Air. But ExpressJet is not deterred, and just announced that it will begin service at three new cities as of 11 November.
Its choice of new cities offers insight into ExpressJet’s thinking about its network strategy, especially since it suggests that the carrier, based in Houston, Texas, is looking at making inroads into the intra-California markets, long dominated by the road. The new cities all feature service between cities within the Golden State and cities just beyond its borders. From Long Beach, in Southern California, ExpressJet will fly to Monterey and Fresno, in California, and Reno, the Nevada resort on the state’s border, while its new Santa Barbara service will offer flights to and from Sacramento, the California state capital, as well as San Diego. From Reno, ExpressJet will serve Ontario, near Los Angeles, as well as Long Beach. The Reno/Lake Tahoe flights will also link the Nevada city with Spokane, in Washington State and Tucson in Arizona.
Few carriers have made a go of intra-California market, and about the last to rely heavily on this intrastate market was PSA. The old Pacific Southwest Airlines, PSA became part of the old USAir in the 1980s, and the bigger carrier promptly erased the trademark smile on the PSA fleet and reworked its schedules to feed into USAir’s larger national network. Although Southwest is a big player within California, the local traffic that it carries within the state, outside of its lucrative shuttle-type service between San Francisco-area airports and Los Angeles-area airports, is secondary to its larger regional network. Bets are still out on ExpressJet, and the scepticism still runs high, but this could be an interesting experiment within an experiment.