US Airways’ June 27 announcement that it would replace Boeing 737-300s with de Havilland Dash 8s on its Charlotte to Asheville, N.C., route not only illustrated the continuing plight of the nation’s sixth-largest airline, it reinforced a trend long feared by mainline pilot groups.
American Airlines’ decision last month to retire 74 more Fokker 100s and nine Boeing 767-300s will mean continued capacity stagnation at its wholly owned American Eagle subsidiary, as long as the Allied Pilots Association has its way.
Perhaps the sector of aviation most visibly affected by the events of September 11, the airline industry continues its struggle toward recovery, as security burdens, economic jitters and lingering public apprehension over flying conspire to sustain the worst slump in the history of the business.
The decision by US Airways and United Airlines to test the scope-clause language in their pilot contracts after September 11 appeared fully vindicated last month, as both airlines’ Air Line Pilots Association chapters agreed to withdraw their force majeure grievances during negotiations aimed at resuscitating the ailing major carriers.
The events of September 11 and the subsequent economic fallout have tested the competitive mettle of airlines worldwide. Thankfully for those that escaped the fate suffered by the now bankrupt Swissair and Sabena, the hundreds of smaller carriers that comprise the often overlooked regional airline sector have supplied a source of relative strength.
American Airlines has entered negotiations to sell its Executive Airlines subsidiary to St. John’s, Antigua-based Dash 8 operator Caribbean Star. Executive Airlines, a division of American Eagle based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, became the subject of divestiture speculation when American failed to secure relief from a clause in its pilot contract that requires it to freeze its regional affiliates’ ASMs in the event of mainline furloughs.
Wholly owned US Airways subsidiary PSA Airlines expects to begin its transition to an all-regional-jet fleet with the launch of service next month using new 50-seat Bombardier CRJ200s. The Canadian-built jets will replace 32-seat Fairchild Dornier 328 turboprops on flights linking PSA’s Dayton, Ohio base with Ronald Reagan Washington National and New York La Guardia Airports.
Almost immediately after US Airways’ emergence from Chapter 11 bankruptcy in late March, company CEO David Siegel told reporters that the company would place an order for 100 regional jets for MidAtlantic Airways, its new Pittsburgh-based regional unit slated to begin service during this year’s fourth quarter.
The so-called “Jets for Jobs” program agreed upon by US Airways as part of the labor contract ratified by its ALPA-represented pilots over the summer has produced neither jobs nor jets for anyone so far.
A steady rise in traffic and load factors might seem like good news for the airline delegates gathered at the European Regions Airline Association (ERA) general assembly in Vienna from September 29 to October 1. But as airlines turn to “fierce cost cutting” to attract passengers, reality muted any calls for celebration during the three-day event.