Northwest Airlines pilot strike grounds Mesaba

Mesaba Airlines, which operates as a Northwest Jet Airlink affiliate, temporarily ceased operations from 29 August to 16 September, when Northwest Airlines shut down as a result of a strike by its pilots. Since almost 80% of Mesaba’s traffic is connecting with Northwest, it would not have been economically viable for Mesaba to continue operating. The move grounded Mesaba’s 14 Avro RJ85s, as well as its extensive fleet of SAAB 340s and de Havilland Canada Dash 8s, although Mesaba did operate some RJ85s on charters to shuttle Northwest employees between stations. On 1 September, US Secretary of Transportation Rodney E. Slater ordered Mesaba and the other Northwest Airlink operator, Express 1 Airlines, to resume providing air service to 17 communities under the Essential Air Services program sponsored by the Department of Transportation. Mesaba balked, indicating that it would be difficult for it to resume service since it is heavily dependent on services provided by Northwest Airlines, such as ticketing. The Department of Transportation filed suit, but it was rendered moot when the strike’s end led to flights resuming. Mesaba’s introduction of Avro RJ85s was one of the issues in the Northwest pilot’s strike; the pilot’s union feared that regional jets flown by lower-paid Airlink crews will displace mainline flying. Northwest countered that use of regional jets on Airlink routes stimulates mainline traffic by bringing more passengers to the airline’s hubs, and offered to tie the growth of the regional jet fleet to expansion of the mainline jet fleet. Because of the shutdown, Mesaba’s September passenger load factor dropped from 53.9 percent to 42.5 percent, while revenue passenger miles fell from 68.2 million to 36.5 million.

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