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Is Midwest Trying to be the First to Convert to a Virtual Airline?

Anyone been paying attention to Midwest Airlines lately? It’s certainly understandable if you haven’t. They’ve spent the last few years shrinking into oblivion, but there actually have been some changes recently that are worth noting. It now seems quite likely that Midwest will stop flying any airplanes of its own, and that, I believe, would make them the first to actually convert from an operating carrier to simply a marketing carrier. Now the question is . . . what’s the point of their existence?

The plan rolled out last year had Midwest operating only 9 717s on its own alongside 12 Republic-operated Embraer 170s and 12 SkyWest-operated CRJs, all under the Midwest brand. Scrap that. Time for a new plan.

Now, SkyWest is out and Republic is expanding. SkyWest will pull its 12 airplanes and receive $400,000 each time an aircraft leaves the operation. In exchange, SkyWest will cancel a $9.3m unsecured note. So SkyWest will walk away, free to pursue a life of religious fulfillment, while Republic flexes it muscles.

Republic will begin operating 12 Embraers with 37 to 50 seats. Yep, it’s a one-for-one replacement for SkyWest, though some of these aircraft will have fewer seats. But wait, there’s more. Republic and TPG will each loan Midwest another $6m to keep them flying. I wonder if Republic feels like it has a deadbeat brother who is always asking for money? Then again, they are getting good at this since they’ve put money into Mokulele, US Airways, and I believe Frontier already.

But that’s only part of it. Republic also recently announced that it would start flying two Embraer 190 AR aircraft for Midwest. What the heck are those? They’re long range planes that can once again allow Midwest to fly from Milwaukee to the West Coast. Those routes had to be dropped last year when Midwest ditched their MD-80s.

So let’s get this straight. Midwest now will have 26 airplanes from Republic and 9 measly airplanes of their own. And how long will those last? They still claim that they have no plans to ditch the 717s, but I find that incredibly hard to believe.

Boeing has made a deal with Mexicana to lease 25 717s for its low cost Click division. They admit that 16 of those are ones that Midwest had returned last year, but according to Boeing, they don’t know where the remaining nine are coming from yet. Uh huh.

Mexicana, on the other hand, says all 25 are coming from Midwest. That means Midwest will be left with nothing but Republic-operated aircraft. And in that case, why even bother?

Sure, the Midwest name used to be beloved in Milwaukee, but does anyone really care anymore? The long, slow descent of the airline has really stripped much of the brand equity, as far as I can tell. Delta might as well just operate it under their name and throw in some fresh-baked cookies as a reminder of the days of old.

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