Mesaba Airlines, a US regional feeder for Northwest Airlines, is to double its fleet of Avro RJ85 regional jets in a move that is bound to anger Northwest pilots who are already in bitter contract negotiations.

The Northwest Airlink affiliate agreed to amend its regional jet agreement to increase from 18 to 36 the number of RJ85s to be operated by Mesaba on behalf of Northwest. To date, 13 aircraft have been delivered by Avro.

The 18 new aircraft, to be phased into service from January 1999 to August 2000, are part of an earlier order for 36 aircraft from Northwest. They will be configured for 69-seat, two-class cabins.

Northwest's pilots' contract allows Mesaba to operate regional jets with fewer than 70 seats. Mesaba operates the RJs under long term operating leases from Northwest Aircraft, the Northwest Airlines unit sublease financer.

The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) has expressed "outrage" at the outsourcing of regional jet flying to Mesaba. The union remains opposed to bringing more regional jets into the system.

Northwest and ALPA have been locked in negotiations for nearly two years, with no new contract deal in sight. In recent months, the pilots have staged "work to rule" protests, causing major flight delays.

Mesaba, which celebrates its 25th anniversary of scheduled commercial service this year, serves 91 cities in 19 US states and Canada from its two hubs at Minneapolis/St Paul and Detroit Metro. It operates 82 turboprop and jet aircraft, including Saab 340s and de Havilland Dash 8s.

Source: Flight International