Regionals Update: United moves to shore up regional network

 - August 4, 2008, 12:09 PM

United Airlines completed a series of moves last month that signaled not only its intention to embark on a large-scale expansion of its regional network, but perhaps a willingness to play “hard ball” with its long-time United Express affiliate, Sterling, Va.-based Atlantic Coast Airlines. At press time finalizing contractually guaranteed rate adjustments with its bankrupt mainline partner, ACA last month watched United sign an MOU with Mesa Air Group for regional jet feed and a new code-share deal with St. Louis-based Trans States Airlines.

ACA became the last of the established United Express affiliates to reach terms on a contract amendment when SkyWest Airlines and Air Wisconsin recently agreed to MOUs on new rate structures and regional jet flying. The deal with SkyWest calls for the St. George, Utah-based carrier to add 30 seventy-seat regional jets by 2005 and increase its United Express 50-seat CRJ jet fleet from 37 to 55 by the end of this year. Air Wisconsin’s deal will allow it to convert a conditional order for 20 CRJs to firm status and expand its scope of operation to Washington, D.C.

Meanwhile, Mesa, which last month began flying de Havilland Dash 8-100 turboprops for United from Denver under a new code-share deal signed in March, parlayed its reconciliation with its estranged Chicago-based partner into an MOU for a new 10-year contract that would allow Mesa to fly 20 seventy-seat jets and 10 fifty-seaters as United Express. United also holds an option to deploy another 25 jets with Mesa as circumstances warrant.

Finally, Trans States Airlines, which flew Embraer ERJ-145s as United Express until early 2000, soon after its now defunct sister company–United Feeder Service–lost its contract with UAL to fly British Aerospace ATPs from Chicago, last month inked an MOU with United to fly up to 25 fifty-seat jets from Chicago and Washington, D.C., “within months.” The MOU outlines the basis for a 10-year code-share contract, consummation of which, as with all the new deals, hinges on the approval of a bankruptcy court judge.