Since it began flying a pair of 32-seat Fairchild Dornier 328JETs from its base in Tulsa, Okla., last April, Great Plains Airlines has been promoting plans to establish a new kind of regional airline, dedicated to providing nonstop service from the nation’s heartland to points throughout the U.S.
In a move widely expected to portend an industry trend in years to come, Continental Airlines last month confirmed its intention to sell 20 percent of its now wholly owned Continental Express subsidiary on September 1, laying the foundation for an eventual full spin-off of the Houston-based regional airline.
Plattsburgh, N.Y.-based CommutAir has notified its employees that it will return 12 of its remaining 26 leased Beech 1900D turboprops to Raytheon Aircraft and furlough more than 150 personnel as part of a plan to reduce operations by some 45 percent.
European regional airlines strengthened their ties with their major airline counterparts from across the Atlantic last month, when Italy’s Air Dolomiti signed a code-share contract with United Airlines, and the UK’s Flybe entered a similar agreement with Continental Airlines.
The number of pilots hired from January through May by the six major fractional operators (559 pilots) is outpacing hiring by the major airlines (302) and regional jet operators (402), according to statistics compiled by AIR Inc. of Atlanta. Only hiring by national airlines (649) surpassed fractionals (total hired in all categories was 2,509). AIR also reported that 7,257 of 94,571 active airline pilots are on furlough in the U.S.
As companies merge, expand, downsize, change top executives or declare bankruptcy, their flight departments are often significantly affected. In the past several weeks, four major companies with flight departments have filed for protection under Chapter 11. More than 20 corporate jets were operated by these four companies, and none is currently more visible than Enron.
Statistics compiled by Aviation Information Resources (AIR) of Atlanta show a decrease in pilots hired by fractional providers from a peak of 1,363 in 2000 to 1,038 in 2001 to 997 last year, a drop in hiring of 27 percent over the three-year period. But the fractionals didn’t fare as poorly as other airline segments tracked by AIR. For example, the major airlines hired 4,779 pilots in 2000, 3,318 in 2001 and only 549 last year.
Continental Airlines and Brazil’s Embraer last month agreed to defer deliveries on 60 fifty-seat ERJ-145XRs jets by as much as two years, sending stock prices of both companies sharply downward. According to the new schedule, Embraer will deliver to ExpressJet 36 aircraft instead of 48 in 2003 and 21 aircraft instead of 36 in 2004.
The sagging market valuations of airlines across the U.S. since September 11 have prompted Continental Airlines to reconsider plans to spin off its wholly owned regional subsidiary into an independent entity. As a result, the airline has postponed its planned initial public stock offering of ExpressJet from parent company Continental Airlines until market conditions warrant renewed consideration of such a move.
At a ceremony last month marking the delivery of a newly overhauled Dash 8 to Honolulu-based Island Air, ExelTech announced that it secured C$7 million in new contracts this year from five regional airlines from as far afield as French Guyana to perform heavy maintenance at its facilities in Montreal.