Midwest Airlines will replace all but nine of its Boeing 717s with 12 Embraer 170s flown by Indianapolis-based Republic Airways as part of an effort to restructure its fleet and fend off bankruptcy. As part of the deal, Midwest announced that Republic flight crew would fly the 12 E170s as Midwest Connect, temporarily replacing Midwest Airlines Boeing 717 crew until they receive training on the Brazilian equipment. Plans call for Republic to transfer the airplanes’ operating certificate to Midwest, which would lease the airplanes from Republic. However, that process could take between eight months and a year, according to Midwest, and hinge on concessions from crewmembers accustomed to Boeing 717 rates.
Republic said it has lent Midwest $15 million for a one-year term, and has committed another $10 million if Midwest achieves certain goals.
The first of the 76-seat Embraer jets, at one time used to serve Republic’s now dissolved Frontier Express network, will begin flying as Midwest Connect on October 1, said the airlines. Plans call for the last of the dozen airplanes to enter service on November 15. Under a renegotiated lease deal with Boeing Capital, Midwest Airlines will return 16 of its 717s this fall.
The transition will result in a recall of more than 100 furloughed Republic Airlines pilots and flight attendants. As expected, Midwest’s pilot group did not receive the news well. “Midwest pilots are outraged that management is using such underhanded tactics and further decimating this airline,” said ALPA Midwest Airlines unit chairman Jay Schnedorf in a statement released by the union yesterday. “We are putting management on notice that they cannot hold a gun to our heads and deal with our pilot group in this manner.”
For its part, management has expressed its sympathies, as well as a need for more employee concessions. “We recognize the difficulty this presents to our flight crews and maintenance staff, who will experience additional temporary furloughs,” said Midwest Airlines chairman and CEO Timothy Hoeksema. “We informed union leadership of our plan and advised them that this was the best option to keep our airline viable and that in the best interests of our employees, customers and communities, we need them to come to the table on cost reductions so we can obtain certification and bring the jobs back to Midwest.”