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Mesa Airlines

Mesa Airlines
IATA ICAO Callsign
Founded 1980[1]
Commenced operations October 12, 1980[1]

As American Eagle

As United Express:

Alliance Star Alliance (United)
Oneworld (American)
Fleet size 115
Destinations 165
Parent company Mesa Air Group, Inc.
Headquarters Phoenix, Arizona, USA
Key people Jonathan G. Ornstein (CEO)
Employees +2,500

Mesa Airlines, Inc. is an American regional airline based in Phoenix, Arizona. It is a FAA Part 121 certificated air carrier operating under air carrier certificate number MASA036A issued on June 29, 1979. It is a subsidiary of Mesa Air Group. It operates flights as American Eagle and United Express. It serves more than 180 markets in the Western Hemisphere. Mesa's safety record was noted as having the fewest incidents among domestic regional airlines in the Journal of Air Transportation.[2] Mesa filed for Chapter 11 in January 2010, hoping to shed financial obligations for leases on airplanes it no longer needed. In March 2011, Mesa emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The time that Mesa spent in bankruptcy was one of the shortest time periods in aviation history.


  • Airline operations 1
    • Former airline divisions 1.1
  • History 2
    • Mesa Airlines 2.1
      • America West Express 2.1.1
      • US Airways Express 2.1.2
      • American Eagle 2.1.3
      • United Express 2.1.4
    • Skyway Airlines 2.2
    • FloridaGulf Airlines 2.3
    • Superior Airlines 2.4
    • CalPac (California Pacific) 2.5
    • Liberty Express Airlines 2.6
    • Desert Sun Airlines 2.7
    • go! 2.8
    • Kunpeng Airlines 2.9
  • Crew bases 3
  • Fleet 4
    • Historical Fleet - Jet 4.1
    • Historical Fleet - Turboprop 4.2
    • Historical Fleet - Piston 4.3
  • Destinations 5
  • Incidents 6
  • Notes 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9

Airline operations

Mesa Airlines operates as:[3]

Former airline divisions

  • CalPac (California Pacific) (1993–1995)
  • Desert Sun Airlines (1995–1996)
  • FloridaGulf Airlines (1991–1997)
  • Liberty Express Airlines (1994–1997)
  • Mountain West Airlines (1995–1996)
  • Skyway Airlines (1989–1994)
  • Superior Airlines (1994–1995)
  • Air Midwest (1991–2008)
  • go! (2005–2014)


Mesa began operations as Mesa Air Shuttle in Farmington, New Mexico in 1980. From 1989 to 1998, Mesa Airlines operated as a conglomeration of up to eight separate airlines. For the history of the acquisition and expansion of Mesa Airlines during this time frame see Mesa Air Group. The following history section details the history of the individual airlines that comprised Mesa Airlines during this time frame:

Mesa Airlines

A Beech King Air in livery colors of Mesa Air Lines

The original Mesa Air Shuttle was a flight division of JB Aviation in Farmington, New Mexico and operated routes from Farmington to Albuquerque and Denver. In 1982 the original owners sold the company to Larry and Janie Risley who over the next seven years established the airline with a presence in New Mexico and built a hub in Albuquerque with up to 46 daily departures to 18 cities. In 1987 a Denver hub was created when Mesa acquired Centennial Airlines which operated several routes from Denver into Wyoming. Mesa also added new routes from Denver to Cortez, Santa Fe, and Telluride. After an initial route from Farmington and Gallup to Phoenix began in 1985, Phoenix was expanded into a hub in 1989 with new routes to Bullhead City, Lake Havasu City, Prescott, and Sierra Vista, Arizona. In 1990, most Denver flights were incorporated into the United Express division which Mesa had acquired from Aspen Airways. In 1992, when Mesa established a code share with America West Airlines, its Phoenix hub was turned over to the America West Express division. A minor hub was also operated at Farmington in the late 1980s with up to 22 daily flights connecting Albuquerque, Phoenix, and Salt Lake City to Durango, Cortez, and Telluride, CO.[4] For a brief time in 1995 and 1996, the Mesa Airlines operation at Albuquerque, the United Express operation in Denver, and the America West Express operation in Phoenix were all known as operated by Mountain West Airlines. In 1997 and 1998, routes from Little Rock to Nashville and Wichita and from Nashville to Tupelo were added, first as Mesa Airlines, then later as US Airways Express.

In 1997, Mesa established a small hub at Fort Worth Meacham International Airport, using two Bombardier CRJ aircraft, providing service from Fort Worth to San Antonio, Austin, and Houston Hobby, as well as new routes from Colorado Springs to Nashville and San Antonio. The venture was short-lived and these routes were all eliminated during corporate restructuring. The Albuquerque hub was merged into Air Midwest in 2001 but operated as a code share for Mesa Airlines until the hub was dissolved at the end of 2007.[5]

In 1998, Mesa moved its headquarters from Farmington, NM to Phoenix, AZ.[6]

America West Express

Desert Sun Airways d/b/a America West Express Fokker 70

In September 1992, Mesa negotiated a code sharing agreement with America West Airlines to operate as America West Express out of its Phoenix hub, serving 12 cities. These routes were originally from the independent Mesa operation and several Beech 1900D aircraft were painted in the America West Airlines scheme. The code share allowed increased frequency and increased load factors and expansion into several new markets.

In 1995, Mesa created a new subdivision called Desert Sun Airlines and acquired a pair of Fokker 70 regional jets for use on new America West Express routes from Phoenix to Des Moines and Spokane. Desert Sun was merged into the Mesa Airlines division in 1997 and its Fokker 70 aircraft were replaced by Bombardier CRJ200 aircraft. The CRJ200 aircraft also began replacing the Beechcraft 1900 as the 1900s were transitioned over to Mesa's Air Midwest subsidiary. Beginning in December 1997, Mesa began operating Bombardier Dash 8–200 aircraft between Phoenix and Grand Junction followed by many other cities throughout Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. In 2003, Mesa Airlines took over the operations of Freedom Airlines and Freedom Airlines' CRJ900s were transferred into the America West Express operation. The Beech 1900 flights operated by Air Midwest were discontinued on May 30, 2008.

On September 16, 2005, America West Airlines and US Airways completed their merger. Although the corporate side and operationally, those companies merged, as of May 2008, the two flight operations have not been merged and Mesa continues to code share with the new US Airways Group as US Airways Express under its America West Express code share agreement. It operated CRJ200 and CRJ900 aircraft from hubs in Charlotte and Phoenix, and Dash 8 aircraft from its Phoenix hub until late 2011, when during Mesa's restructuring in bankruptcy, coinciding with United's cancelation of any further CRJ 200 service by Mesa, the CRJ 200's and Dash 8's were removed from service. By early 2012, the only airframe Mesa uses for the "west" side of US Airways out of its Phoenix hub and the "East" side out of its Charlotte hub is with the CRJ 900.

US Airways Express

In November 1997, Mesa negotiated a code share agreement to provide service to US Airways as US Airways Express for 14 regional jets to various cities from its Philadelphia and Charlotte hubs. In 1998 and 2000, the agreement was expanded to 28 jets and then to 52 jets. The first CRJ200 aircraft began operating in 1998. As Mesa began taking deliveries of the Embraer ERJ 145 aircraft in 2000, the CRJs were transferred to the America West division, separating the fleet types.

In 2003, 20 CRJ200 aircraft were reintroduced to the US Airways Express division. With the reintroduction of the CRJ, the CRJ200 aircraft operated out of the Philadelphia hub, and the ERJ-145 aircraft operated out of the Charlotte hub.

In 2005, Mesa's code share agreement with US Airways was not reaffirmed in bankruptcy court, and Mesa began transitioning the aircraft to other code shares. Twenty-six ERJ aircraft were transitioned to Freedom Airlines, and the CRJ and remaining ERJs were transferred to Mesa's United Express operation. However, following the America West Airlines merger later that year, the Mesa contract for America West Express was retained and expanded to include non-former America West Express routes. All US Airways Express flying will be converted to American Eagle on October 17, 2015 when the merger between American and US Airways is complete.

American Eagle

As the merger process between American Airlines and US Airways was progressing, Mesa Airlines began operating as American Eagle on November 6, 2014 with routes out of the American Airlines hubs at Dallas/Fort Worth and Los Angeles using CRJ-900 aircraft. US Airways Express routes from Charlotte and Phoenix were gradually shifted to American Eagle until the transition and merger was completed on October 17, 2015.

United Express

In 1990, Mesa acquired Aspen Airways Denver hub and routes, except for Aspen's Denver to Aspen route. It attempted to acquire Aspen's code share with United, however United was unwilling to code share with an airline that only operated 19-seat turboprops. Mesa leased Embraer EMB 120 Brasilia aircraft from its former competitor in New Mexico, Air Midwest. With the Brasilias in hand, Mesa gained a code share with United for its Denver hub. Several Beech 1300 and Beech 1900 aircraft were repainted with the United Airlines scheme.

In 1995, California Pacific and its Los Angeles hub was merged into Mesa's United Express operation. After the closing of Superior Airlines' Columbus hub, its aircraft and crews were used to expand United Express into Portland and Seattle. In 1997, operational difficulties with the Denver hub and disagreements over the renewal of Mesa's WestAir subsidiary code share with United resulted in the cancellation of Mesa's code share.

In 2003, Mesa agreed to a service agreement with United for service out of their hubs at Chicago-O'Hare, Denver, and Washington-Dulles under the United Express banner. In October 2009 United decided to exercise its early termination option for the Dash 8 flying. The Dash 8 flying ended on April 30, 2010.[7] Around the same time, United decided not to extend its CRJ200 operation and as a result, all of the Mesa CRJ200s (26 aircraft) flying under United Express were phased out by April 30, 2010.[8] As of 2015, Mesa's United Express operations consisted of Embraer 175 flying out of the Houston hub and CRJ-700 flying out of the Washington Dulles hub.

Skyway Airlines

The Skyway Airlines division was Mesa's first foray into the Midwest. Skyway was formed in 1989 when Mesa established a code share agreement with Midwest Express and a Milwaukee hub. From Milwaukee, Mesa served 25 cities in nine states in the upper Midwest region, using Beechcraft 1900 aircraft. Upon expiration of the code share in 1994, it was not renewed. Midwest Express kept the Skyway Airlines name and routes, forming Astral Airways to fill the void as Mesa ceased service in Milwaukee. Mesa reallocated the aircraft and crews to start Superior Airlines in its Columbus hub for America West Express.

FloridaGulf Airlines

The FloridaGulf Airlines division was formed in 1991 after Mesa's acquisition of Air Midwest. Air Midwest's CEO, Robert Priddy, was chosen to start up the operation. It operated under a code share agreement with US Airways and was a US Airways Express carrier. It started with a Tampa hub, providing service to Florida and the southeast United States using Beechcraft 1900 aircraft. Additional hubs in Orlando and New Orleans were established. In 1993, the airline expanded into the Northeast, with a hub in Boston and eventually Philadelphia. In 1994, six Embraer EMB 120 aircraft were added. By the time it was merged into Air Midwest, in 1997, it was operating 44 Beechcraft 1900 and 9 Embraer EMB 120 aircraft serving 49 destinations.

Superior Airlines

After Midwest Express notified Mesa they would not be renewing the contract to operate their Skyway Airlines division, Mesa allocated the aircraft and crews to form Superior Airlines in 1994. Superior initially competed against their former Midwest Express partner as America West Express and also provided service from the new America West Columbus hub. Superior operated America West Express flights to compete against their former partner from Milwaukee to Flint, Lansing, Columbus, Grand Rapids, Indianapolis, Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, as well as from Rockford to Detroit. Within 18 months Mesa redirected Superior and its Beech 1900 fleet to focus exclusively on the Columbus hub. By 2000 the aircraft and crews, which consisted of CRJ200s (CL-65s), were being operated by Mesa Airlines itself. America West Airlines closed its Columbus hub in 2003 and Mesa again reallocated the assets this time to its newly reacquired United Express operation.

CalPac (California Pacific)

Mesa created CalPac (California Pacific) in 1993, establishing a United Express carrier with a Los Angeles hub. It utilized Beechcraft 1900 and Embraer EMB 120 aircraft to serve 12 destinations. In 1995, the airline division was merged into Mesa's United Express operation.

Liberty Express Airlines

In 1994, Mesa acquired Pittsburgh-based Crown Airways. Using the acquired assets, Mesa established Liberty Express with its hub in Pittsburgh and a code share with US Airways. In 1997, it was merged into Air Midwest, operating 14 Beechcraft 1900 aircraft serving 17 destinations.

Desert Sun Airlines

The Desert Sun Airlines division was created in 1995 to inaugurate Mesa's first jet service utilizing Fokker 70 aircraft. It operated as America West Express from a Phoenix hub. The first two cities to receive jet service were Spokane and Des Moines. In 1996, the division was merged into Mesa's America West Express operation, and the Fokker 70 aircraft were replaced by Bombardier CRJ aircraft as they were introduced. There was also a previous Desert Sun Airlines that operated scheduled passenger commuter service in southern California during the mid 1980s with Beechcraft 99 turboprops and Piper Chieftain prop aircraft.[9]


Bombardier CRJ200 operating for go!

In 2006, Mesa formed go! in the Hawaiian Islands, using 5 Bombardier CRJ aircraft from its Honolulu hub. It established a code share with Mokulele Airlines, which served airports that cannot accept jet aircraft and provide point-to-point service in between the islands with Cessna Caravan turboprops. The codeshare with Mokulele was later replaced by one with Island Air, which was itself later replaced by a joint venture with Mokulele dubbed go! Mokulele. The airline ceased operations in Hawaii on April 1, 2014.[10]

Mesa's go! was involved in multiple lawsuits with Hawaiian Airlines and Aloha Airlines and was also investigated by the Federal Aviation Administration for an incident on February 13, 2008 where both pilots fell asleep during a regularly scheduled 36-minute flight between Honolulu and Hilo. go!'s flight 1002 overshot Hilo Airport by 15 miles (24 km), remaining 21,000 feet (6,400 m) in the air as they missed the destination. Air traffic controllers were unable to reach the two pilots for 25 minutes, after which contact was re-established and the aircraft returned for a safe landing in Hilo.[11][12]

Mesa's go! was also blamed for the March 31, 2008 shutdown of Aloha Airlines due to "predatory fares".[13]

Kunpeng Airlines

Kunpeng Airlines was formed as a joint venture between Mesa Airlines and Shenzhen Airlines of China. They began flying in October 2007 with 3 Bombardier CRJ200 aircraft and currently have 5 in China. The airline originally expected to operate 20 CRJ's prior to the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing and plan to expand at a rate of 20 aircraft per year for the next 5 years. All pilots would have been based in Beijing or Xian and the airline initially was to fly to 16 regional airports. Mesa intended to replace the outgoing CRJ200s with larger regional jets such as the CRJ700 and CRJ900. Kunpeng has recently decided to delay delivery of CRJ200 in favor of brand new Embraer E-190. All of the Mesa aircraft are being returned.

Furthermore, as of June 2009, Mesa no longer has a financial interest in Kunpeng Airlines, as Shenzhen Airlines purchased Mesa's interest in the original joint venture.

Crew bases

  • Dallas/Fort Worth (CRJ-900) – American Eagle
  • Houston-Intercontinental (EMB-175) - United Express
  • Phoenix (CRJ-900) – American Eagle
  • Washington-Dulles (CRJ-700) – United Express


As of August 2015, the Mesa Airlines fleet consists of the following aircraft:[14]

Aircraft Total Orders Passengers Operated For Notes
F E+ E Total
Bombardier CRJ200 1 0 0 50 50 Mesa Airlines
Bombardier CRJ700 20 6 32 32 70 United Express
Bombardier CRJ900 38 9 70 79 American Eagle
Bombardier CRJ900 19 9 67 76 American Eagle
Bombardier CRJ900 7 12 64 76 American Eagle
Embraer ERJ-175 30 15 12 16 48 76 United Express
Total 115 15  

In March 2013, Mesa Airlines announced the leasing of nine Bombardier CRJ900s, which were previously operated by Uruguay's Pluna, for operations at US Airways. The aircraft entered the US Airways Express fleet between April and July 2013 and will operate under an eight-year capacity purchase agreement through 2021.[15]

In September 2013, Mesa Airlines announced an agreement with United Airlines which extends the operation of 20 CRJ700s through 2020. The agreement includes an order of 30 United-owned Embraer ERJ-175s that will be operated under contract by Mesa Airlines. Mesa Airlines later announced an agreement with United Airlines to add 15 Embraer 175 aircraft to Mesa’s United Express fleet. Mesa will operate 45 Embraer aircraft for United Airlines.[16]

Historical Fleet - Jet

Historical Fleet - Turboprop

Historical Fleet - Piston

  • Piper Saratoga - first aircraft type operated by the airline as Mesa Air Shuttle between Farmington, NM and Albuquerque in 1980
  • Piper Chieftain - second aircraft operated from 1981 through 1983. Briefly operated from Farmington to Denver, Durango, and Grand Junction, CO and to Vernal, UT[17]


Mesa's destinations as an independent carrier in the southwest (1980-2007) include the following:[18]


On June 29, 1990 flight 22, a Cessna 208 Caravan en route from El Paso, Texas to Ruidoso, New Mexico lost engine power and landed on New Mexico State Road 220 about four miles short of the Sierra Blanca Regional Airport. There were no injuries and the only visible damage was to the sheet metal on the right wingtip.[19]

On October 16, 2001, an EMB 145 was on final approach to Roanoke, Virginia. The captain had briefed a "no go-around" for a night visual approach to a "Special Airport." The approach was not stabilized, and the airspeed decreased to the point of a stall. The airplane struck the runway in a nose high pitch attitude, the aft fuselage struck the runway first then settled on the landing gear. The first officer made initial callouts of slow airspeed and then stopped when the captain failed to respond to her callouts. After landing, the airplane was taxied to the gate where a post flight inspection limited to the main landing gear did not find the damage to the tail section. The incident was not reported by either pilots to the Company and the airplane was allowed to be flown by the next crew the following morning on its scheduled service back to Charlotte, NC where a post flight inspection revealed the tail strike. When interviewed, the captain first denied having been involve in a hard landing and speculated that the tail strike must have been the result of an over rotation on takeoff from the morning crew. When faced with the CVR and FDR data, she eventually admitted to the incident. She reported that she briefed "no go-around" because no takeoffs were authorized on the runway at night or in IMC conditions; however, the first officer knew this was incorrect, but did not challenge the captain. Both pilots had received CRM training, which included crewmember assertiveness, methods of fostering crew input, and situational awareness, and training on special use airports; however it was not followed by either pilot. The captain said the first officer was passive and quiet. The first officer reported the captain was defensive and did not take criticism very well. It is remarkable that the damage to the tail section was not discovered during the preflight visual inspection performed by the morning flight or ground crews. The aircraft had an MELed APU and needed the engines to be started with the assistance of an external air cart. The connection for the air cart is located at the aft bottom fuselage section where the damages were visible. The access panel was in fact bent. Yet the ground crew did not notify the flight deck crew. When the walk around visual inspection was performed by the morning crew's first officer, it was performed during the hours of darkness with the help of a flashlight. The air cart was already connected and forced the first officer to walk around the cart and away from the aircraft, missing the tail strike damages.[20] Both crews were terminated from employment however the first officer of the accident flight and the captain of the morning flight were eventually reinstated with help of their union (ALPA). The accident captain was able to recover her certificates and privileges but was not reinstated. The first officer from the morning crew died from illness prior to being reinstated.

On February 13, 2008, the pilots of a go! CRJ200 fell asleep and overshot their destination airport by 26 nautical miles (48 km; 30 mi) before Air Traffic Control was able to make contact with the aircraft.[21] The incident happened on the third consecutive day during which the pilots had been required to start duty at 0540 am. The captain suffered from an undiagnosed severe sleep apnea. The National Transportation Safety Board determined the probable cause of this incident as follows: "The captain and first officer inadvertently falling asleep during the cruise phase of flight. Contributing to the incident were the captain's undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea and the flight crew’s recent work schedules, which included several consecutive days of early-morning start times."[22]

On 29 September 2015, a novice plane spotter captured a wing strike during landing by American Airlines Flight 5786 which was operated by Mesa Airlines under the American Eagle Brand. The plane landed and taxied to the gate without further incident. No injuries were reported [23]


  1. ^ a b Norwood, Tom; Wegg, John (2002). North American Airlines Handbook (3rd ed.). Sandpoint, ID: Airways International.  
  2. ^ Wilson, M.; P. Anne (1997). "Safety Concerns of Startup Airlines". Journal of Air Transportation World Wide 2 (1). 
  3. ^ "Investor Relations Home." Mesa Air Group. Retrieved on January 30, 2009.
  4. ^ Mesa Airlines timetables
  5. ^ American Express Skyguide
  6. ^ World Airline Directory. Flight International. March 25–31, 1998. 80.
  7. ^ "Mesa Announces Termination of Turboprop Aircraft Service". Reuters. October 29, 2009. 
  8. ^ [4]
  9. ^ photos of Desert Sun Airlines Beecfcraft C99 and Piper Chieftain aircraft at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
  10. ^ "Go! airlines to stop Hawaii operations on April 1".  
  11. ^ Daysog, Rick (2008-02-19). "FAA probing whether go! pilots fell asleep on flight".  
  12. ^ "Airline fires 2 pilots who overshot Hawaii runway".  
  13. ^ "'"Aloha Airlines to stop flying Monday night; CEO calls it 'an incredibly dark day. Pacific Business News. 2008-03-30. Retrieved 2012-04-13. 
  14. ^ "Mesa Airlines Fleet". ch-aviation. Retrieved 6 July 2015. 
  15. ^ "Mesa to use ex-Pluna CRJ900s for US Airways operation". 2013-03-04. Retrieved 2013-08-18. 
  16. ^ "Mesa to Operate Embraer 175 Aircraft and Extends CRJ 700 Agreement for United Express". 2013-09-13. Retrieved 2014-01-26. 
  17. ^ Mesa timetables during 1981
  18. ^ Mesa Airlines Timetables
  19. ^ Albuquerque Journal 1990 (date unknown)
  20. ^ [5]
  21. ^ Aviation Herald: Mesa CRJ2 near Hilo veered off course 26nm, both pilots asleep 24 December 2008
  22. ^ [6]
  23. ^


  • Graham, Rex (03-01-1987). "And the Winner Is ...". New Mexico Business Journal 11 (3): 17. 
  • various (various). "Mesa Airlines Company Reports 1991–1993" (PDF). The Investext Group. 
  • Mesa Air Group (various). "1995–2005 Annual Reports". 

External links

  • Mesa Air Group Company Website
  • Mesa Air Fleet Age
  • NTSB Dash 8–200 Accident website
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