ALPA lambastes Mesa’s operations record

 - December 8, 2006, 6:05 AM

The Air Line Pilots Association last month issued a vote of no confidence in the management of Phoenix-based Mesa Air Group due to what union leadership characterized as slowing growth and rapidly mounting operational problems.

“As Mesa expanded over the past three years, our management passed off our operational problems–broken aircraft, crew shortages, dirty cabins, delayed and canceled flights–as the ‘price of rapid growth,’” said ALPA’s Mesa unit chairman, Capt. James Ackerman. However, as growth  slowed dramatically this year, “operational problems still persist and, in fact, have worsened,” added Ackerman.

In a recent survey of Mesa pilots, 90 percent of respondents voiced a lack of confidence in management, according to ALPA.

In fact, Bureau of Transportation Statistics data for this year’s first three quarters show that Mesa Airlines–the largest of Mesa Air Group’s four individually certified carriers–finished last out of the 19 reporting carriers in customer complaints with 1.52 per 100,000 boardings. It finished 17th in on-time performance during this year’s third quarter, with a 71.2-percent punctuality rate, compared with an industry average of 75.2. From January through September it finished 16th in mishandled baggage reports at 10.3 reports per 10,000 passengers, compared with an industry average of 6.44. During the same period it finished 13th in involuntary denied boardings from oversales.

Low performance rankings don’t often elicit public statements from ALPA, but in Mesa’s case, the fact that capacity growth has slowed over the past year means that promotion opportunities for union members have as well. Known for years among major airlines as one of the lowest-cost suppliers of regional feed in the business, Mesa also earned a reputation for low pay–and fast career advancement. But now that it has finished fulfilling capacity obligations associated with its United and Delta code-share deals and the merger of America West and US Airways has prompted a shift in CRJ900 capacity from long-range routes in the West to shorter-range eastern markets, the explosive growth Mesa enjoyed during the early part of this decade has abruptly ended.

Although a simultaneous revenue passenger miles (RPMs) increase of 7.8 percent resulted in a 4.2-point jump in load factor, as of the end of October Mesa’s year-to-date available seat miles (ASMs) rose just 1.9 percent. Mesa’s stagnation stands in stark contrast to the high standard it set in 2004, when it registered a 54.3-percent increase in ASMs and a 69.9-percent jump in RPMs, and even last year, when it logged more modest gains of 17.59 percent and 17.9 percent, respectively.