Trans World Airlines is to launch a regional jet operation as part of an expansion of its feeder service. Another US carrier, Delta Air Lines, has moved to further strengthen its Connection network by acquiring partner airline Comair.

TWA plans to have eight 50-seat regional jets operating in its colours by the end of next year. "We're looking first at St Louis and then New York Kennedy-We're in discussion with several potential partners and expect to have something to announce in the next few weeks," it says.

Under a recently concluded new scope clause agreement with TWA's pilots and machinists, the carrier can operate up to 15 50-seat jets in its own right and share the use of a further three. This can be increased up to a maximum of 30 aircraft as the size of TWA's mainline fleet grows. It can add one additional regional jet for every three new large units until TWA's fleet reaches 200, after which it is one for every two mainline aircraft.

Among the regional operators in discussion with TWA is its partner, Trans States Airlines, which already operates turboprop services from St Louis and Kennedy. Trans States has also signed an agreement to expand its TWA Connection service to Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco. The carrier already operates eight 50-seat Embraer RJ-145s on behalf of Delta Connection and has another seven on order, plus 10 options.

Delta, in the meantime, has paid $1.8 billion for the remaining 78% of Comair's stock. The Cincinnati-based carrier will operate as a wholly owned subsidiary alongside Delta's other recently acquired regional operator Atlantic Southeast Airlines. Comair president David Siebenburgen takes overall charge of the Connection network, while co-founder and chairman David Mueller steps aside.

The move follows Delta's recent agreement to add Atlantic Coast Airlines (ACA) to its network. It has fuelled speculation that the airline may move to strengthen its relationship with other major partners SkyWest Airlines and Trans States. Both serve other carriers. Connection traffic accounts for $1 billion of Delta's $15 billion turnover and chief executive Leo Mullin says the company will increase that figure.

Comair's acquisition includes the carrier's 48 outstanding Bombardier Canadair Regional Jet (CRJ) -200 and -700 orders. This, together with the 25 Fairchild 328JETS and 20 CRJ-200s ordered by its ACA partner, gives Delta control of a significant number of regional jet delivery positions through to 2002.

Meanwhile, Trans States Airlines' sister carrier United Feeder Services (UFS) will cease operating when it withdraws its nine British Aerospace ATPs. It blames poor aircraft reliability and performance for the decision. United Express partner carriers Air Wisconsin and ACA will take over vacated UFS routes between Chicago and the Mid-West.

Source: Flight International