I’m going on vacation starting today. And by that, I don’t just mean I’m sitting at home and not working. Nay, I’m packing the family up into a rented RV and we’re going to visit some California state and national parks over the next week. To keep you entertained while I’m gone, I’ve put together a three-part series looking at the last 15 years of airline regional relationships. Today, I start with American and its predecessors. Delta and United follow.
In 2005, American, US Airways, and America West were all separate entities with American Eagle, US Airways Express, and America West Express brands, so you’d think the regional shifting during that time would be enormous. You will probably be surprised by this chart.
Thanks to Cirium, I took a look at the percent of flights by regional carrier compared to total regional flying to show how percentages have shifted by carrier over the years. There’s a lot more that needs to be explained, but let’s start with the visual.
You may be surprised by some of the consistency here considering this spans two mergers. I know I was. Let’s dive into details, starting with the biggest player and working our way down.
Back in 2005, the biggest player was American-owned Envoy. Actually, it was called American Eagle since at the time, it was the only airline flying under that banner. (I’m including Executive Airlines lumped in here.) The limited other regional flying at American was under the American Connection banner.
The first blow to Envoy came in bankruptcy when American shifted to using “American Eagle” as an overall name to lump together all regional operations, just as other airlines have done with their regional plans. (That’s when it had to take on a new name, and Envoy was chosen.) Then, the merger made things worse with new relationships and two more wholly-owned subsidiaries joining the regional fray.
Envoy hit its bottom of 21.5 percent of American’s regional flights in January of 2016. It had been above 40 percent just three years earlier (and that is 40 percent of the combined American/US Airways flying back then, to be clear). Envoy had seen many 50-seaters parked, and it had its 70-seaters taken away and given to another operator.
It was looking bleak until the Envoy employees agreed to a new deal. Then Envoy was able to swing concessions, and it started winning flying back, including new 76-seaters.
In August, Envoy is scheduled to operate just over 30 percent of American Eagle flights.
The other big guy in the regional network is PSA. PSA has been around so long that it was actually brought into the fold by the original Piedmont back in the 1980s. At the time it was known as Jetstream International but after USAir bought Piedmont and the original PSA, Jetstream was renamed as PSA to squat on the trademark.
PSA made its way through the American/US Airways merger as a small 50-seat CRJ-200 operator. Then the decision was made to give PSA a bunch of CRJ-700s and CRJ-900s, and growth exploded.
PSA was historically under 10 percent of the total regional operation, but now it is scheduled for just shy of 27 percent in August 2020.
Republic numbers can be a bit messy since it has had multiple airlines under its ownership over the years, but it all started with Chautauqua. In 2005, Chautauqua had a relationship both with American and US Airways. It had also flown for America West out of its Columbus hub, but that ended when the hub ended in 2003.
Republic won the lottery by helping get US Airways out of bankruptcy after the America West takeover. The end result was more capacity thrown its way. Beginning in 2008, Republic went from 4 percent of combined regional capacity to 10 percent.
Chautauqua may be long gone, Republic has continued to serve the combined airline. It is scheduled to have 13 percent of Eagle departures in August.
The most important independent regional in the country has a far smaller footprint at American than it does anywhere else. SkyWest didn’t even start flying for the airline until December 2011 when it took on some legacy US Airways flights out of Phoenix using CRJ-200s since Mesa had gotten out of that game. It picked up a contract to do some of that flying for American out of Los Angeles at the end of 2012. In 2013 it went big with CRJ-900s for the US Airways operation, but that disappeared in 2015. (There was a little ExpressJet flying as well for several years, but that went away in 2019, and SkyWest sold the airline anyway. Consider it a forgotten footnote.)
Today, SkyWest has been tasked with being a significant CRJ-700 operator for the airline (since 2016) alongside the CRJ-200 operation. It will also be taking on Embraer 175s for American soon. The steady growth now has SkyWest up to operating 12 percent of Eagle flights.
Not to be confused with the original Piedmont, this Piedmont was known as Henson before USAir decided to do some trademark-squatting. It operated as a regional for both Piedmont and USAir/US Airways. Its days looked numbered when its fleet of Dash-8 props began hitting the end of their lives, but then the powers that be saved the airline and made it a jet operator.
The Dash is now a distant memory, and Piedmont now flies a fleet of Embraer 145s, taking PSA’s place as a 50-seat operator. This has kept the airline fairly steady in its position on this list. It is expected to fly just shy of 10 percent of American Eagle flights in August.
The sixth and smallest regional airline still flying for American is also one of the more controversial. Back in 2005, Mesa and its subsidiary Air Midwest were flying enormous fleets for both US Airways and America West. After that merger, the CRJ-900s remained the backbone of the fleet while everything else fell off. And after the American merger, those remained.
Mesa continues to fly in Phoenix and has moved its Charlotte operation to Dallas/Fort Worth with mixed operational success. Those problems have led American to start removing CRJ-900s from the fleet. Mesa had over 10 percent of regional capacity at American, but in August it is set for about 7.5 percent.
The Dearly Departed
There are five regionals that have flown for American since 2005 but no longer do. Here’s what happened to them.
- Air Wisconsin was another regional that helped pull US Airways out of bankruptcy, and it bought itself into a contract to fly CRJ-200s for the airline when things otherwise looked bleak. United, however, ended up stealing Air Wisconsin away, and so the flying for American stopped in February 2018.
- Pinnacle-owned Colgan and Mesaba both flew for American and its predecessors. Wait, Mesaba? Yes, it’s right. There was a short-lived LaGuardia operation as US Airways Express back in 2011 that I had long forgotten about. But Colgan had extensive Saab operations for US Airways Express that were phased out in 2012 when it retired the aircraft.
- RegionsAir… ok, remember, RegionsAir? It used to be Corporate Express, but by 2005 it was in its dying days. It flew a handful of airplanes as American Connection in St Louis until March 2007 when the airline was shut down.
- Trans States-owned airlines actually did a fair bit of flying for American on two separate occasions. First, Trans States was brought in to fly as American Connection in the early 2000s. That became American Eagle and lasted until December 2018. Then Compass began flying Embraer 175s for American Eagle out of Los Angeles in March 2015, but that ended in April 2020. Both airlines have now been shut down by the parent company.
On Monday, we’ll tackle Delta Connection with United Express to follow on Tuesday.
I wasn’t aware that Mesa was having issues with their CRJs. They did just order the SpaceJet, and if those ever get delivered it seems like the most obvious use would be as a CRJ replacement. Unless the problem isn’t tied to the aircraft itself, in which case it seems like they might be in danger of losing American flying entirely and end up flying for United full-time. I would not want to be a United-only carrier right now considering how drastically they are shifting their regional strategy.
Mesa has struggled operating as AE partially due to lack luster staffing and all due to have some of the oldest cr9’s around that have had a long time under Mesa maintenance and so have had a long time operating at the limits of legality and that maintenance has definitely taken a toll on the frames.
Great time to go with half the state on fire!
Trans-States also flew for US, including their own at-risk flying out of PIT to RDU, STL and IND until last year after US shut the hub down.
Trans States’ history with American’s ancestors goes back to 1985 when it (under its original name Resort Air) began operating as Trans World Express. I think it’s that operation that formed the basis of Trans States’ AmericanConnection operations. They also started flying as USAir Express in 1989 from LAX.
I forgot about the J32 operation out of LAX and SFO. It wasn’t just flying as USX, but as HP, NW and CO at the same time. Talk about pimping ones self out!
I remember Regions Air. They used to fly between St. Louis and the small town where I went to college. After they crashed outside of town while trying to land it wasn’t long before their safety practices were scrutinized and they were gone before I left college.
Actually PSA is from Pacific Southwest Airlines in California that US Airways purchased in 1998. To keep the name active they changed the name of of Jetstream to PSA. Jetstream had been afflicted with Piedmont PSA was never afflicted with Piedmont. Also part of the history of American Eagle carriers are Wings West and Simmons both of which changed to American Eagle in 1998 and “ceased” operations.
CORRECTION US AIRWAYS PURCHASED PSA IN 1988