For years major airline executives have recognized their regional affiliates’ potential to take a more active role in serving markets that until recently occupied the exclusive domain of mainline operations. But limited labor resources and influential pilot unions curbed efforts to penetrate the artificial barrier between mainline and regional flying.
An unsettling air of ambivalence descended on Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky Airport last month as Comair pilots ended an 89-day strike that cost Delta Air Lines at least $200 million and an untold number of non-striking employees their jobs.
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.
The U.S. airline industry last month felt the opening tremors of what could become the biggest shakeup in the business since the introduction of the regional jet. On August 15, US Airways announced a plan to fly 50- to 69-seat RJs within its mainline system, using mainline flight crews as part of a far-reaching reorganization effort.
The September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon set the stage for an upheaval in the U.S. airline industry unseen since the dawn of deregulation. But while virtually no one besides the enemies of America welcomed the negative economic effects, some airlines may very well emerge from the crisis in a stronger competitive position.