Three small regional carriers are in the process of winding down operations, as sky-high fuel costs continue to bite.
Earlier this week Mesa Air Group confirmed it is liquidating its loss-making Raytheon Beech 1900 operator Air Midwest. It expects the wind-down to be fully completed by the end of the year.
Today, Midwest Airlines announced plans to begin closing subsidiary Skyway Airlines' Dornier 328JET flight operations in March and April (it started pulling down Beech 1900 operations last year). Skyway’s routes will be flown by Midwest’s new partner, Bombardier CRJ200 operator SkyWest Airlines; its airport services business will remain intact.
MAIR Holdings subsidiary Big Sky Airlines recently ceased operations. It operated – you guessed it – Beech 1900 turboprops.
Okay, so we’ve established a common theme here – 19-seat operations, even those that are subsidized by the US Government under the essential air service (EAS) program, are simply not profitable in today’s environment.
But I must admit I was a tad surprised by Midwest’s decision today to shutter Skyway. Midwest only just expanded the Skyway fleet in 2006, after brokering a deal to acquire two 328JETs once operated by Atlantic Coast Airlines (and its successor Flyi) for Delta Air Lines. Additionally, Midwest seemed pretty certain that Skyway would remain a member of its airline family, even after inking the feeder deal with SkyWest.
Fast-forward to today, and Midwest is citing the economics of operating the current Skyway fleet of 328JET regional jets coupled with rapidly rising fuel costs as necessitating the change in strategy.
A Midwest spokesman says Skyway's closure was by no means a "fait accompli" when the deal with SkyWest was inked. However, Midwest is staying mum on just how many CRJ200s will be added to the SkyWest deal (the original pact called for 15), and calls "speculation" any talk of additional growth for SkyWest at Midwest (above what is necessary to cover the Skyway routes).
That Skyway's fate was not set in stone at the time of the SkyWest deal might not provide a whole lot of comfort to Skyway pilots, flight attendants and mechanics now. A total 380 Skyway employees will be laid off over the new few months.