US regional Big Sky Airlines is to take over bankrupt Aspen Mountain Air's (AMA) Essential Air Service (EAS) routes from Dallas/Fort Worth, beginning in the middle of November.

In an emergency action, the US Department of Transportation selected the Billings, Montana-based regional in preference to three other applicants. The routes, now being flown by AMA, serve eight communities in south-central USA.

AMA is operating the EAS services with 19-seat Fairchild Metro 23s, two of them wet-leased from Merlin Express, a subsidiary of Fairchild Dornier. Big Sky will assume the AMA Metro 23 wet leases and use two other aircraft when it starts flying. A fifth aircraft will eventually be added, to improve air services to small US towns. The transfer should be completed by 15 December without any loss of air service.

The switch was accomplished as Fairchild Dornier repossessed AMA's fleet of nine leased Fairchild Dornier 328 turboprops, forcing the Grand Prairie, Texas-based regional airline to suspend services in five markets.

Exec Express II, parent company of AMA, has been under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection since August. Ron Stone, AMA's chairman and chief executive, is developing a new business strategy with an unnamed investor group to acquire aircraft for a new regional airline to be patterned after the defunct Aspen Airways, which operated in the Denver-Aspen, Colorado, market.

Discussions with the Connecticut-based investment firm, Wexford Management, have reportedly taken place. Wexford rescued US Airways Express carrier Chautauqua Airlines in early 1998.

At one time, AMA provided scheduled airline services to 22 cities in the USA and Mexico, with 15 turboprops. The carrier, which acquired Lone Star Airlines two years ago, had been codesharing with American at Dallas and Frontier at Denver.

Source: Flight International