I can’t be the only one to be constantly surprised at how many lives regional carrier Mesa Air Group has burned through. At one point or another, every major US airline that has worked with Mesa has been angry with the airline. Yet every time it seems like Mesa is going to finally disappear, it pulls another rabbit out of a hat. This time, it’s the signing of a new, albeit smaller, deal with American that has defied all odds.
Mesa was a major regional partner for both America West and US Airways before they merged. It survived that merger as well as the ultimate one with American. After the dust settled, Mesa was flying 64 CRJ-900 aircraft under the American Eagle brand from both the Phoenix and Dallas/Fort Worth hubs, but things weren’t going well for the airline.
Mesa had been whittled down to flying for only two airlines, United and American, and the United deal was at risk of disappearing. Presumably a long-standing relationship between Mesa CEO Jonathan Ornstein and United’s CEO Scott Kirby and Chief Commerical Officer Andrew Nocella had something to do with that. Once things settle out as planned, Mesa will fly 80 Embraer 175s for the airline for the forseeable future. That saved the airline with United, but American was a different story.
With Scott and Andrew gone from American, many assumed that Mesa would eventually go as well, especially considering its performance. After several problems with reliability, American was allowed to remove airplanes from the agreement. It has since removed 10 airplanes so that only 54 are in the contract today. Many of those airplanes were reaching the end of their agreements, and I assumed Mesa would finally lose out. I was wrong.
On November 24, Mesa and American signed a new deal for a five-year term starting January 1, 2021. Under this new agreement, Mesa will have only 40 CRJ-900s flying under the American Eagle banner. But hey, that’s still 40 more airplanes than I would have guessed.
Which airplanes will Mesa use and what will it do to fix them all? If you’ve flown Mesa, you know it has quite the motley fleet, and the interiors are in rough shape. Mesa is the primary American Eagle operator from Long Beach, so I’ve flown it several times. While I find the crews to be generally fantastic, I’m always appalled by the state of the interiors. Here’s a photo from 2016 that sums up my general experience.
The airplanes appear to be touched up ever so slightly. I’ve seen paint used to cover up blemishes, but anything that takes real effort is deferred until American makes Mesa actually do the work. For example, fixing up disgusting, scratched windows…
That usually only happens when it’s time for a new contract, so I have no doubt that the remaining 40 airplanes will be getting an upgrade as part of this new deal. But wait, that’s not the only issue.
Mesa has these airplanes in — check notes — 40 different configurations. Wait, no, that’s not right. But there are multiple configurations thanks to random airplanes that came into the fleet from other airlines, so it can be quite the adventure. As I understand it, the hope is that eventually they will be able to standardize in a single configuration, but nothing along those lines has been approved thanks to the current economic climate.
Here is how I understand things will play out in the near term:
There are 38 so-called “classic” CRJ-900s that aren’t like the rest of the fleet. They were the original Mesa order from Bombardier and were delivered in 2004 or 2005. These airplanes all have 79 seats on them instead of 76 and are grandfathered into the fleet with that capacity. Eighteen of these will make it into the new agreement, and right now there isn’t an approved plan to reconfigure these with only 76 seats, but that may change.
For the remaining 22 airplanes, I’m not sure what will stay, but there are many options.
- 1 random aircraft (N243LR) was built in 2006 and came from defunct Turkish airline Atlasjet. That airplane is currently parked, and I imagine it won’t come back.
- 2 airplanes (N326MS and N329MS) came from the ironically-named, defunct UAE-based airline HeavyLift International. Those were built in 2007 and are currently flying.
- 6 airplanes (N244LR – N249LR) came from defunct Uruguayan operator PLUNA and were built between 2010 and 2011. Three of those are currently flying, two are parked, and one was ferried from Tucson to Jacksonville earlier this week, so maybe a return to lessor? I’m not sure.
- 7 airplanes were taken directly from the factory when they were built in 2015. These are probably the nicest planes in the fleet, and I can’t imagine they’d be going anywhere.
- 10 airplanes were delivered to Air One Cityliner and eventually flew under the beloved Alitalia Cityliner brand. They were built between 2006 and 2007, and 3 are currently parked.
If we assume those 7 airplanes taken direct from the factory aren’t going anywhere, that means there are 15 airplanes that will remain from the rest of the ragtag group. I assume American will just choose whichever airplanes are not in the worst shape.
The new agreement takes effect on January 1, and Mesa will continue to fly out of both Phoenix and Dallas/Fort Worth for American. I look forward to seeing the updated schedule when that gets released. I also will hold out hope that soon flying on Mesa will not look much different from flying any other Eagle regional partner. One can dream…