ExpressJet is ready to return to the skies. The carrier plans to launch independent service this Spring according to recent DOT filings, growing its fleet of Embraer ERJ-145 planes to serve short-haul markets.
The carrier suspended flight operations on 30 September 2020 as United Airlines moved all ERJ operations away from the carrier. The rest of 2020 was spent returning aircraft as part of the wind-down of UnitedExpress operations. But the company kept one ERJ-145 and is now ready to press it into service, along with nine others it plans to lease in the first year of operations.
Over the years, the breadth of ExpressJet’s operations grew from those of a domestic short haul carrier to a carrier providing scheduled service and charter flights throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. ExpressJet’s plans for 2021 and beyond are to provide high-quality, reliable, efficient point-to-point flying to small and medium sized cities that have lost service in recent years as a result of U.S. airline industry consolidation and COVID19 driven route reductions.-DOT filing
The company claims the status of its “ownership, organization and operations allows for a seamless return to scheduled operations.” United Airlines still owns 49.9% of the operation which makes its return as a potential competitor to United all that much more interesting.
In a statement ExpressJet confirmed its intentions:
A successful outcome for our DOT application will allow our company to develop and execute its business plans. Achieving success as a startup/re-start airline will require the support of all of ExpressJet’s current and future stakeholders – aircraft lessors, employees, business-partners, etc. For obvious reasons, the company has requested confidential treatment for our plans and we appreciate the DOT‘s acceptance of our request. ExpressJet is excited about the opportunity before it – and expects to convey more about its plans in the coming weeks.
The company’s launch plans are rather aggressive. By June 2021 it plans for three aircraft to operate a total of 420 departures carrying a total of 15,847 passengers in six point-to-point markets. It anticipates those travelers would pay an average of $153 for the service. The fleet would grow to 10 aircraft over the course of a year, reaching a dozen markets.
Unlike Avelo’s imminent launch or what is expected from Breeze Airways, ExpressJet appears to be planning daily service in all markets, growing to 2x or 3x daily as the fleet expands. The company does not anticipate selective day operations.
This is also not the first time ExpressJet has ventured out on its own. In 2007 the company, having lost its contract to operate as Continental Express, took its fleet of ERJs and launched point-to-point services across the USA. It splurged for XM radio on board, a relatively new option to improve the in-flight passenger experience. But ultimately it was unable to deliver a profitable operation.
That this latest iteration comes as a result of United Express terminating the contract 15 years later is somewhat ironic.
The new version of the independent operation will be notably smaller than the 2007 airline. That network started with 69 aircraft compared to the 10 planned a year into service this time around. Also, the 2007 version launched just prior to a major recession rather than a market rebound buoyed by pent-up demand.
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