While the traffic slump that beset the U.S. airline industry as a result of September 11 certainly manifested itself in fourth-quarter financial results across sector lines, an ability to adapt quickly to changing market conditions mitigated the damage to the regional airline business, which showed remarkable resilience in the face of potentially devastating losses.
In an industry led by comparatively conservative, low-key individuals, one regional airline executive not only tolerates the spotlight, he welcomes it. Mesa Air Group chairman and CEO Jonathan Ornstein–now in his fourth year as head of one of the country’s largest regional carriers–has become one of the industry’s most controversial figures.
CCAir president Carter Leake last month notified his employees that parent company Mesa Air Group planned to close the money-losing regional airline on July 1. Leake’s memo arrived on the same day as Mesa’s latest contract proposal to CCAir’s pilots. The pilots rejected a previous proposal.
Jonathan Ornstein has learned something over the years about mending fences–and breaking down barriers. Although the outspoken and sometimes brash chairman and CEO of Phoenix-based Mesa Air Group has fought his share of battles during his 13 years in the airline business, Ornstein has found ways to overcome conflicts with those he needs to survive and prosper.
Mesa Air Group’s designs for a new non-union subsidiary to fly its planned fleet of 64- and 84-seat jets continues to face stiff resistance from the powers that be within the Air Line Pilots Association, starting with none other than ALPA president Duane Woerth.
A festering animosity between regional airline pilot groups and the Air Line Pilots Association showed no sign of subsiding last month, as nearly 300 Comair pilots asked to join a pending lawsuit against the union while pilots from US Airways subsidiary Allegheny Airlines picketed outside ALPA’s Washington headquarters.
US Airways informed Mesa Air Group that it will end its code-share relationship with Mesa subsidiary CCAir on November 4, and re-assign the last remaining routes flown by the Charlotte, N.C.-based regional to wholly owned US Airways subsidiary Piedmont Airlines. The decision will effectively close CCAir in its entirety, unless Mesa can negotiate a new “cost plus” contract to replace CCAir’s pro-rate agreement.
It didn’t take long for Mesa Air Group’s seemingly innocuous new code-share deal with United Airlines to raise far wider implications, as Mesa chairman and CEO Jonathan Ornstein last month launched a bid to spread his company’s influence beyond its already substantial breadth with an overture to buy Atlantic Coast Airlines.
Given one last chance to agree to pay cuts or risk the death of their airline, the pilots of CCAir finally blinked on April 29, when 72 percent of the Charlotte, N.C.-based airline’s remaining 108 active pilots voted in favor of a new five-year labor deal fashioned by parent company Mesa Air Group.
A federal arbitrator’s ruling to award the Allied Pilots Association $23.2 million for American Airlines’ scope-clause violations appears to have achieved its desired effect.