Merged US airline to seek feeder partner for E-190s

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But plan to subcontract flying to regional operator faces opposition from pilot unions

America West Airlines and US Airways are preparing the ground to introduce a fleet of up to 25 Embraer 190s on feeder services once the two airlines merge.

A formal request for proposals (RFP) for a regional carrier to operate the 95-seaters is expected, with America West confirming that an “early stage RFP” has been circulated to Air Wisconsin, Mesa Air Group and Republic Airways Holdings. US Airways confirms that its reorganisation plan “contemplates 90-seaters to replace some 50-seaters”, adding that “there is no timeline as to when they would enter service”.

However, the plan to subcontract the operation to a regional partner is facing opposition from the America West pilots union, which says it expects to “retain that flying” for mainline pilots. The America West unit of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) is maintaining that any Embraer aircraft in the “E-190 and above” size range and any Bombardier aircraft in the “CSeries and above” range (effectively from 110 seats) fall within current scope clauses, and should only be operated by mainline employees. Although E-190 flying is not permitted under America West’s current pilot contract, US Airways affiliate carriers can fly up to 25 E-190s “under certain provisions”. This is where the language in both contracts differs, says US Airways ALPA, adding that the issue “will involve some working out”.

Talks on the transition plan between America West pilots and management are scheduled to take place this month when negotiators for the pilot group will make clear that E-190 flying is “a huge issue for us and I think that given the state of the industry and the number of furloughs, we want to protect those jobs”, says the America West unit of ALPA.

Meanwhile, the Republic Airways Holdings pilots’ union has agreed to discuss a request from its management to quickly amend the current collective bargaining agreement to allow the group to operate E-190s under the US Airways Express banner. Republic is keen to operate the E-190s under a jets-for-jobs scheme with US Airways, although its current pilot contract does not support that.

The holding company’s proposed start-up Republic Airlines should introduce Embraer 170 services for US Airways Express next month, and the agreement provides for it to potentially operate E-190s when American West and US Airways merge.

Mesa chief executive Jonathan Ornstein confirms that he has received the RFP and is “going to take a good look at it”. Mesa operates Bombardier CRJ900s for America West, but the latter’s ALPA says the CRJ900 flying “was negotiated to a certain limit and amount”, and it is unwilling to make the same concessions for the E-190.

MARY KIRBY/PHILADELPHIA