American Airlines and regional airline Mesa are severing ties

American Airlines and regional airline Mesa are severing ties

American Eagle Bombardier CRJ-900ER aircraft seen at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

Alex Tai | SOPA | Getty Images

Mesa Airlines‘ CEO said Saturday that the regional carrier will wind down its flying for American Airlines and that it is close to an agreement to fly those jets for United Airlines.

Mesa’s CEO Jonathan Ornstein told employees in a note: “We are excited to announce we have negotiated a wind down of our operations with American and are finalizing a new agreement with United which would transition all CRJ900s currently flying for American Eagle to United Express.”

United declined to comment.

Derek Kerr, American’s CFO and president of American’s regional brand American Eagle, told staff on Saturday that Mesa and American will wind down their flying agreement, citing American’s concerns about Mesa’s financial and operational problems which are tied to a rise in costs and the industry’s pilot shortage.

“As a result, we have concerns about Mesa’s ability to be a reliable partner for American going forward,” Kerr said in an employee memo. “American and Mesa agree the best way to address these concerns is to wind down our agreement.”

The final Mesa flight for American will be on Apr. 3, though American is slashing Mesa flights in March, Kerr said in his note.

Large carriers like American, United and Delta Air Lines routinely contract regional airlines to fly many shorter routes, accounting for roughly half of departures, though that varies by airline.

The heart of the problem stems from a shortage of pilots, which is most acute at regional carriers and has become more severe since travel demand snapped back after a pandemic travel slump. Mesa and other regional airlines have boosted wages to attract and retain pilots. American has also raised wages at its regional subsidiaries.

American declined to fund higher pilot rates for other regional partners, Mesa’s CEO told staff in the note, adding that it was penalized for not being able to meet pre-Covid contract obligations.

“These two actions were costing us approximately $5 million in losses per month,” Ornstein said.

American didn’t comment on Ornstein’s memo.

Mesa had a net loss of about $67 million in the nine months ended June 30, according to a securities filing. Last week, the airline postponed its quarterly earnings report.

As of Sept. 30, 2021, about 45% of Mesa’s revenue came from American and 52% from United, according to the company’s last annual filing, which was published a year ago. Mesa also flies for DHL.

American said its agreement with Mesa was mostly tied to its hubs at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

American plans to concentrate its flying with its wholly owned regional subsidiaries like Envoy and PSA, as well as an independent regional carrier SkyWest. Air Wisconsin will also fly for the American Eagle brand, starting its agreement earlier than originally planned, American’s Kerr said.

“The flying previously done by Mesa will be backfilled by these high-quality regional carriers as well as our mainline operation, ensuring we can continue to build and deliver the very best global network for our customers,” Kerr wrote.