U.S. Regional Airline Trans States to Close on April 1

 - March 17, 2020, 5:14 PM

This story is part of AIN's continuing coverage of the impact of the coronavirus on aviation.

St. Louis-based Trans States Airlines plans to cease operations on April 1, marking the first airline casualty of the Covid-19 crisis in the U.S. The United Express regional partner had planned to draw down operations gradually before going out of business by the end of the year, but United Airlines has decided to accelerate the closure as part of its 50 percent reduction in flying in April and May.

“We received word last night that the immediate cuts to our schedule are far deeper than we had feared and that the accelerated drawdown of our operations will be faster than we ever could have imagined,” Trans States CEO Rick Leach wrote in a memo to employees on Tuesday.

As of late February operating 41 Embraer ERJ-145s, Trans States has suffered mightily with cost overruns and a shortage of captains over the past 18 months, leading to a late February decision to shutter the business by year-end. 

In a February 24 memo to employees announcing the original draw-down plan, Leach cited moves by U.S. major airlines to shift aircraft among their partners to simplify and create “critical mass” among fleet types and reduce geographic overlap of flying as a major reason for financial distress within the regional industry at large. United, for one, continues to consolidate and restructure 50-seat jet flying among its various regional affiliates, most recently announcing a major fleet addition at its ExpressJet partner.

What Leach called “razor-thin” profit margins throughout the industry has burdened regional carriers with a need to fly every airframe for as many hours as they can; in Trans States’ case, a captain shortage resulted in an inability to meet productivity objectives and contractual flying obligations. The imbalance between captains and first officers had become so acute that the St. Louis-based airline said that it canceled a first officer class already in session while delaying others, a move that inevitably would have resulted in reduced flying even absent the coronavirus outbreak.