American draws blueprint for St. Louis feed network

 - May 21, 2008, 8:07 AM

American Airlines’ absorption of TWA took a major step forward when the Dallas-based American signed a pair of new code-share agreements with TWExpress partners Trans States and Chautauqua Airlines. As part of the multi-year agreements, Indianapolis-based Chautauqua and St. Louis-based Trans States will replace all the 50-seat Embraer ERJ-145s serving their TWA code-share routes with 44-seat Embraer ERJ-140s recently ordered from the Brazilian manufacturer during June’s Paris Air Show.

Chautauqua Airlines’ contract involved a conversion of options on 28 ERJ-140/145s, 15 of which it will fly for American Airlines from St. Louis. The airline has also added 25 new options for the Embraer RJs. The contract brings the total number of Embraer jets held on order and option by Chautauqua Airlines to 73 and 42, respectively. The Trans States contract included a new firm order for 10 ERJ-140s and options for another 25, bringing that airline’s firm order total to 22 and option tally to 25.

The choice of the 44-seat ERJs speaks volumes about the effects of a scope clause negotiated by American Airlines’ pilots in 1997. While the language limits American Airlines’ regional affiliates to 67 jets built to carry 45 or more passengers, it places no restrictions on jets holding 44 seats or fewer. The contract provided the catalyst for Embraer’s foray into the 44-seat jet market, a decision that has now begun to pay dividends beyond the initial order for ERJ-140s from American Eagle at last year’s European Regions Airline Association Convention in
Interlaken, Switzerland.

In a move suggestive of the eventual deal with American, TSA in June announced plans to begin moving its 50-seat jets from its TWA network to its US Airways Express system, employing a pair of ERJ-145s on routes between Pittsburgh and Madison, Wis., on August 10 and between the Steel City and Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on August 19. Chautauqua, for its part, signed a new code-share contract with America West that calls for deployment of 12 ERJ-145s in midwestern and eastern business markets, including Chicago, Baltimore and Boston, from America West’s Columbus, Ohio hub. The first route, scheduled to begin on August 1, will connect Columbus and Atlanta three times daily. Meanwhile, American said it has begun discussions about extending existing turboprop agreements with all three of the current Trans World Express providers: Chautauqua, Trans States and Nashville, Tenn.-based Corporate Airlines.

The new RJ feeder contracts followed a tentative agreement signed in April between American and its pilots for integrating TWA assets into American’s operations. Ratified last month by the Allied Pilots Association (APA) board of directors, the deal provides “substantial” job protections for American’s pilots, guarantees steady growth in the number of captain jobs and creates a “hard fence” around TWA that keeps its operations separate from American’s during the transition period. The deal also creates a process for adopting APA pay and work rules for TWA pilots, a schedule to gradually move TWA aircraft into American’s fleet, and restores length-of-service credit for American pilots furloughed by the airline in the past.  

While the airline resolved such internal matters with the discretion typically reserved for labor negotiations, American and TWA showed more visible signs of their union last month when Trans World employees and flights began operating from American Airlines facilities in Pittsburgh, Las Vegas and Nashville. TWA flights now arrive and depart from American’s gates in those three cities. In Nashville and Pittsburgh, TWA passengers pick up checked bags from American Airlines baggage claim areas. American plans to integrate some 10 TWA stations into its system by the end of the summer. By the time it completes the integration, American will employ some 130,000 people and fly a fleet of more than 900 airplanes. As part of its acquisition of the assets of TWA, American has agreed to provide jobs, at integration, for TWA’s union-represented employees.