United Continental wants to continue operating some number of Bombardier Q400s even after regional partner Colgan Air disbands turboprop flying as part of its parent company's restructuring.
Pinnacle Airlines declared bankruptcy on 1 April and announced plans to wind down Colgan's turboprop flying for United Continental by November. Colgan operates both Q400s and Saab 340s.
Both types will continue to be operated by United Continental, but with different carriers, chief executive Jeff Smisek told analysts while discussing first quarter earnings on 26 April.
"The Q400 is a plane that works very well for us particularly in some of the shorter haul markets in Houston and Newark," says Smisek.
United Continental, however, could reduce the size of the 70-seat Q400 fleet and substitute regional jets instead.
"We're going to continue to have [Q400s]," says Smisek. "In terms of the mix between Q400s and regional jets I can't speculate."
Besides Colgan Air, only Horizon Air and Republic Airlines operates Q400s in the US, according to the Flightglobal Pro database.
Bryan Bedford, chief executive of Republic Airways Holdings, subsequently told analysts that he remains unsure that United Continental has decided to keep the Q400s after Colgan's operations wind down.
"They've got to decide they need to retain those aircraft," says Bedford.
Republic Airlines currently owns only four Q400s in its fleet, while Colgan operates dozens of type for United Continental. Despite the numbers shortfall, Bedford won't rule out Republic's interest in the routes.
"If United wants a different Q400 supplier that's something we'd talk to them about," says Smisek.