An ExpressJet CRJ700 in American Airlines livery parks at Santa Fe Regional Airport in New Mexico.
ExpressJet Airlines was caught by surprise when mainline partner Delta Air Lines announced plans to cancel its capacity purchase agreement with the Atlanta, Ga.-based operation. On Aug. 10, 2017, Delta publicized plans to reposition its Delta Connection aircraft with other regional carriers and cease operations with ExpressJet by November 2018. This decision particularly affects the former Atlantic Southeast Airlines pilots, who fly as part of ExpressJet but who remain separate from their legacy ExpressJet peers, despite the procurement of a single operating certificate in 2011.
While ExpressJet flies as part of the American Eagle network out of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, the bulk of its Atlantic Southeast flying has been as a Delta Connection carrier. As ExpressJet scrambles to recover from this news, it searches for a new mainline partner for this portion of its operation to secure future flying and halt any further downsizing.
“The pilots have been down before, and they’ve always performed through it to come back out on top,” said Capt. Chromer Smith, the Atlantic Southeast pilots’ Master Executive Council (MEC) chairman. “I have no doubt that this will happen again.”
Smith noted that legacy ExpressJet also performs United Express flying and that Atlantic Southeast pilots previously provided feed for United Airlines at its hub at Washington Dulles International Airport. He and other members of the MEC are working closely with management in the hopes of reestablishing this relationship. “A teamwork approach is critical if we’re going to make this work,” he said.
With the Delta capacity purchase agreement winding down, the airline closed its Detroit, Mich., pilot base in December 2017. In addition to this consolidation, the airline, like many other regional carriers, is losing pilots as baby boomers retire and others elect to fill vacancies at major and national airlines.
To help meet the airline’s scheduling needs, the MEC allowed a portion of the pilots—qualified and paid as captains—to fly as first officers. This flexibility enables the airline to maintain its productivity and operational performance. The pilots and management have also hammered out several other positive arrangements during the past year.
Last June, the two parties negotiated a package of economic incentives including signing and retention bonuses. In addition, ExpressJet management and the two pilot groups reached agreement on an integrated seniority list. Although some fences exist, this new list makes it easier for Atlantic Southeast and ExpressJet pilots to transition between the two pilot groups.
In a joint statement released in August, Smith and Capt. Dave Allen, then the ExpressJet MEC chairman, commented, “Our two pilot groups have now become lifeboats for each other,” emphasizing that the two groups are communicating and working closely together to ensure that their members take full advantage of all ExpressJet flying opportunities. Air Transport International also announced a new preferential hiring policy for ALPA members like Atlantic Southeast pilots. While this is a welcome opportunity, ExpressJet continues to explore options to shore up this reduction in its flying.
Atlantic Southeast Airlines began operations in 1979, flying a single 19-passenger de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter turboprop aircraft between Atlanta and Columbus, Ga. Over the years, Atlantic Southeast expanded its fleet and upgraded its operation. Delta acquired the carrier in 1999, selling it to SkyWest, Inc. in 2005. Now part of ExpressJet, the Atlantic Southeast MEC remains hopeful that it can secure new opportunities for its members.