Northwest Airlines is restructuring its regional Airlink operation along lines dictated by the market, scrapping its system of strict geographical demarcation between Airlink operators. The US major has also warned that it will veto any attempt to merge Continental Airlines, in which it has a stake, with Delta Air Lines, if Delta pursues the move in response to the United Airlines' take-over bid for US Airways.

Northwest's new strategy will see subsidiary Express Airlines I expand services with new Bombardier CRJ200 regional jets into areas traditionally served by minority-owned Airlink operator Mesaba Airlines, dashing the latter's own hopes of operating 50-seat CRJs, and increasing pressure on its shareholders to accept a Northwest buy-out offer. "We're going to deploy our aircraft based on gauge and market needs," says Express I vice-president marketing Phil Reed. "Northwest can't continue to deploy aircraft along geo-political boundaries."

Express I, which operates 10 CRJs from its Memphis base, will deploy CRJs into Northwest's primary hubs of Detroit (from March, expanding to 23 aircraft by mid-2002) and then Minneapolis.

Northwest initially allocated only 42 of its 54 ordered CRJ200s to Express I, suggesting Mesaba might get the remaining 12 (Flight International, 17-23 October), but Express I says it now expects to get all 54 (Northwest's scope clause agreement limit).

Mesaba will continue to operate 69-seat BAE Systems Avro RJ85s from Detroit, Memphis and Minneapolis, plus 73 34-seat Saab 340 turboprops, which - given the new Airlink demarcation strategy - could be supplemented by Express I's Saab 340s. Northwest will add further CRJs (it has options for 70) from next year on a one-for-one basis as it expands its mainline fleet.

Northwest's warning against a Delta-Continental move came as several airlines backed a call for a nine-month mergers moratorium to head off the United-US deal.

US Senator Charles Schumer says a moratorium, backed by AirTran, America West, Continental and Delta, would allow the US Department of Justice to look at the deal's impact on competition. US Airways chief Stephen Wolf has again told a Senate committee the "status quo is not an option".

A rival bidder has meanwhile emerged for Trans World Airlines, with an unidentified group of Scottsdale, Arizona-based investors named Jet Acquisitions offering $1 billion, double American Airlines' bid. Jet would also acquire TWA's $3.5 billion liabilities and invest another $1.7 billion.

Source: Flight International