Pilot attrition proved the bane of the U.S. regional airline business during the first half of the year, forcing flight cancellations that cost carriers not only passenger revenue and goodwill, but performance penalties under the terms of their mainline code-share contracts. Judging by the sentiments airline CEOs expressed recently, better recruiting and training efforts have stopped the proverbial bleeding.
The cyclical nature of the airline business showed its inevitability again at this year’s Regional Airline Association convention, held May 21 to 24 in Memphis, Tenn. More than 1,500 visitors passed through the turnstiles at the Memphis Convention Center–a record number for an RAA convention.
Three regional airlines will fill the service void left in 12 small and medium-size communities in six states by the March 9 closure of Smyrna, Tenn.-based Regions-Air. Great Lakes Aviation has emerged as the big winner of the trio, drawing half the cities in a new contract with American Airlines that calls for the Cheyenne, Wyo.-based regional to fly from St.
This year’s RAA Convention couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time and place for Memphis, Tenn.’s hometown airline. The proud new owner of a second operating subsidiary and revamped service contract with Northwest Airlines, Pinnacle Airlines has officially shed the manacles of a highly restrictive code-share deal and joined the open market for regional services.
Manassas, Va.-based Colgan Air will fly fifteen 74-seat Bombardier Q400 turboprops under a 10-year capacity purchase agreement that Colgan’s new owner, Memphis-based Pinnacle Airlines, signed with Continental Airlines last month. The deal will see Colgan fly the new airplanes, scheduled for delivery from this December through June of next year, from Continental’s Newark, N.J. hub starting next January.
Northwest Airlines pilots last month voted to allow Northwest Airlink partner Pinnacle Airlines to add more 50-seat regional jets to its fleet and open talks over a new pay scale for 70-seat regional jets at the mainline. Part of a concessionary contract that calls for a 15-percent pay cut among pilots and management, the new deal will allow Pinnacle to convert its remaining orders and options on 44-seat Bombardier CRJs to 50-seat CRJ200s.
Transcripts released by the FAA early last month reveal that the pilots of the Pinnacle Airlines CRJ200 that crashed in Jefferson City, Mo., on October 18 purposely climbed to 41,000 feet to “have a little fun” before the jet, its 50 passenger seats empty, lost power and began a rapid descent. “We don’t have any passengers on board so we decided to have a little fun and come on up here,” said one of the pilots.
Bombardier announced plans to cut this year’s CRJ200 production by another 20 percent just days after Standard & Poor’s lowered the company’s credit rating to junk status and issued a “negative” outlook for Bombardier’s regional jet prospects.
Northwest Airlines will have to add a third regional partner if it wants more 50-seat jets for its Northwest Airlink division, according to an agreement with its pilots to limit the number of regional jets it leases to Pinnacle and Mesaba Airlines.
Pinnacle Airlines bought Manassas, Va.-based Colgan Air for $20 million last month. The deal gives Memphis-based Pinnacle, which has flown exclusively for Northwest Airlines during its entire existence, immediate access to code-share revenue from Colgan partners Continental Airlines, United Airlines and US Airways.