Contract will now include 70 extra regional aircraft, but pilots must agree jets-for-jobs

Mesa Air Group and US Airways have extended their regional jet contract to include 70 additional aircraft, but several hurdles could delay or even block the anticipated expansion.

Mesa plans to add a mix of Bombardier CRJ200s, CRJ700s and Embraer ERJ-145s to its US Airways Express network, beginning with 20 CRJ200s in the first half of next year. Mesa is committed to adding 25 more regional jets in the second half of 2003 and 25 more in 2004, with the exact aircraft type subject to negotiations.

Mesa insists it is capable of fully executing the agreement, pointing out it already has financing lined up for 60 additional regional jets - all but four of which are Bombardier aircraft. But chief executive Jonathan Ornstein acknowledges: "There are still some hurdles we need to overcome".

Mesa Airlines' pilots must authorise participation in US Airways' jets-for-jobs programme, which requires half of the new pilot positions be filled with furloughed mainline pilots. But The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) says it will not consider jets-for-jobs at Mesa until the pilots at all Mesa subsidiaries, including non-unionised CRJ700 operator Freedom Airlines, are combined under one contract.

Mesa hopes to quickly resolve all its labour issues, but it is running out of time if it is to begin adding the first CRJ200 in January as planned: "They haven't taken a vote, nor are we ready to go," Ornstein says.

The first batch of additional US Airways CRJs would be reassigned from Mesa's Frontier and America West networks, but if the full contract extension is executed, at least 50 new aircraft orders will be required. The contract extension also includes an unspecified number of CRJ700s, pending the removal of mainline pilot scope language prohibiting regional jets with over 50 seats at partner carriers. US Airways is asking ALPA to amend scope, but the union will not budge until Freedom is folded into Mesa.

Freedom launched in October, with plans to operate 20 CRJ700s and 20 CRJ900s on behalf of America West. Mesa has since converted five of its CRJ700 orders into CRJ900s, but hopes to exercise some of its CRJ700 options for US Airways.


Source: Flight International