The summer of 2001 saw regional airline executives sweating from more than the heat of the season, as 89 days of uncertainty produced by the pilots of Cincinnati-based Comair threatened to halt the growth momentum of an entire industry. Of course, the strike severely hurt Comair’s parent airline, Delta, to the tune of at least $200 million.
Delta Air Lines’ “realignment” of its regional subsidiaries reached the top levels of management last month, when Delta senior v-p of strategy and business development Fred Buttrell became president and CEO of Delta Connection. Buttrell replaced long-time Comair CEO David Siebenburgen, considered by many the father of the regional jet movement in the U.S.
Embraer president and CEO Mauricio Botelho reflected on the events of September 11 and their subsequent effect on the world’s aerospace industry with a quote from Argentine-born Cuban revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara. “We must be tough without losing tenderness,” said Botelho during a lavish dinner affair the evening before the October 29 rollout of the newly branded 70-seat Embraer 170 regional jet.
The profound damage inflicted by the September 11 terrorist attacks brought changes to the U.S. airline industry the most prescient observer could not have envisioned three months ago. Twenty-percent industrywide capacity cuts, furloughs and layoffs, large-scale route transfers from mainline carriers to regional affiliates and aircraft delivery deferrals have all marked one of the most volatile periods in the industry’s history.
Houston-based ExpressJet became the first airline to operate a scheduled flight with Embraer’s extended-range ERJ-145XR on November 1, when the Continental Airlines affiliate launched nonstop service from Newark (N.J.) International Airport to Oklahoma City and Omaha, Neb., and from Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport to Richmond, Va.
Shortly after announcing plans to accept delivery of another 10 ex-Comair Canadair Regional Jets, St. George, Utah-based SkyWest Airlines negotiated a revision to its code-share contract with Delta Air Lines that will allow it to fly exclusively under a fee-per-departure arrangement.
Chautauqua Airlines on November 1 became the fifth regional airline to fly as Delta Connection, when a new 50-seat Embraer ERJ-145 took off from Columbus, Ohio, on its first scheduled flight to Orlando, Fla. On the same day Chautauqua began service between Columbus and Tampa, one of three daily round trips between the Delta system’s new city pair.
Big Sky Airlines will operate as a subsidiary of Mesaba Holdings by year-end if the Billings, Mont.-based Fairchild Metro III operator meets “certain labor conditions” set by its would-be parent company from Minneapolis. The proposed merger would create a new division within Mesaba Holdings, flying under an operating certificate and labor contracts separate from Mesaba Aviation.
When UAL Corp., the parent company of United Airlines, announced in May that it would enter the business aviation market with creation of a new subsidiary to be known as United BizJet Holdings for the time being, it was big news. And it was assumed by some that this was the first venture into business aviation by a major airline. Wrong!
A festering animosity between regional airline pilot groups and the Air Line Pilots Association showed no sign of subsiding last month, as nearly 300 Comair pilots asked to join a pending lawsuit against the union while pilots from US Airways subsidiary Allegheny Airlines picketed outside ALPA’s Washington headquarters.