Mesa Air helps keep big carriers connected to many little places. Through its group of regional airline subsidiaries, the company serves about 450-daily departures to nearly 95 cities across some 35 states, Canada, and Mexico, via a fleet of 75-plus aircraft. Subsidiaries, led by Mesa Airlines and Freedom Airlines, operate under contract to provide connecting service for other airlines, including US Airways and United Continental's United Airlines. The company also offers inter-island airline service in Hawaii as go!; consolidated passenger sales are largely attributable to operations on behalf of other airlines. After seeking Chapter 11 bankruptcy relief in early 2010, Mesa Air emerged in 2011.
The company's 13-month reorganization was one of the fastest on aviation record. Mesa Air shed some 100 unwanted 50-seat regional jets and aging turboprops, along with approximately $700 million in capitalized leases and $50 million in debt. It re-enters the marketplace as a smaller privately owned company, with closer ties to US Airways, which pocketed a 10% stake in Mesa Air.
The company still faces considerable turbulence ahead. Its Freedom Airlines unit lost its contract as a Delta Connection regional carrier due to performance issues claimed by Delta Air Lines in mid-2009. Mesa Air's operation as United Express is threatened, too, as United Airlines has signaled it could drop the 20 Bombardiers contracted from the regional airline in 2012.
Moreover, Mesa Air still owes close to $75 million. The reorganization plan dictates that its debtors will be paid in the event that the company benefits from its interest in Spirit Airlines. Mesa Air in 2006 invested $15 million in private equity Indigo Partners, which owns more than 55% of Spirit. Spirit's initial public offering (filed in fall 2010) is anticipated to increase Mesa Air's investment by up to roughly $95 million. Proceeds from the IPO would first go toward to paying off its notes and, only later, improving its cash position.
Cash is needed for survival as the company, like its rivals, struggles to gain a larger share of the US regional market through internal growth and acquisitions. Like bankruptcies, acquisitions (such as Pinnacle's purchase of Delta's subsidiary Mesaba and SkyWest's purchase of ExpressJet) can trigger cancellations of contracts for regional service. Mesa Air, following bankruptcy, suffered a decline in revenue when its contract with US Airways was re-negotiated.
The company's pre-bankruptcy efforts to cut costs have also eroded its position. Mesa Air pared down its turboprop operations. It shut down its Air Midwest unit, which operated about 20 Beechcraft 1900D turboprops as US Airways Express and for Midwest Airlines as Midwest Connect. High fuel costs were also cited as a reason to terminate the Air Midwest business. – less
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