US Airways Express is finding its scope for expansion limited despite having won concessions from the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) to add more regional jets.

US Airways Express's two major partner operators, Chautauqua Airlines and Mesa Air Group, are voicing caution about committing too much additional capacity, while US Airways' lack of an orderbook, financing or established cost structure is restricting its ability to add its own aircraft soon.

"These are three tangible benefits the partner carriers can bring to the table," says Chautauqua chief executive Bryan Bedford. "But we are not looking for growth at any price, there is an issue of culture and what is sensible for our employees."

Of the 70 jets now operated for US Airways Express, Chautauqua's Embraer ERJ-145s account for 26, Mesa 32 and Trans States the remaining 12 50-seaters. Both Chautauqua and Mesa are discussing additional deliveries with the Brazilian manufacturer. The issue for Bedford if Chautauqua adds more is who will fly the Express aircraft and at what price.

Under the ALPA-US Airways agreement, half the crew positions created by the extra jets will go to the airline's 1,070 furloughed pilots. At a minimum this means placing 280 pilots, or up to 580 depending on crewing ratios, none of which have jet experience, with either US Airways' three wholly owned regional carriers and planned Potomac start-up, or with the partner carriers. Furthermore, the pilots are guaranteed captain pay rates for the first year irrespective of their position.

US Airways Express has been told by Mesa it could secure another 16 surplus Bombardier CRJ200s immediately, but is reluctant to commit to more than 20 additional jets. Mesa is heavily committed to the scheduled start-up next month of its new American West operation Freedom Air, equipped with CRJ700/900s, as well as putting CRJ200s into its other new service Frontier JetExpress, which operates at Frontier's Denver hub.


Source: Flight International