To say that Mesa Airlines expects its operations to look dramatically different at the end of this decade would be a significant understatement. The company just signed its third deal of the past year focusing on electric passenger aircraft.
The latest, announced last week, opens a unique options for operations, as the planes are technically boats, designed to operate in the ground effect of low altitudes and avoiding many FAA regulations along the way. Mesa took a small financial stake in Regent (Regional Electric Ground Effect Naval Transport), but its more significant role in the startup’s latest financing round is the provisional order for 200 of the flying sea gliders.
Powered by eight electric motors, the 12-seat craft will taxi and take off on water rather than land. It is designed to fly at very low altitudes, with a top speed around 180 miles/hour.
In addition to the potential for connecting coastal cities with the Wing in Ground Effect craft, or WIGs, the Regent sees potential for medevac and cargo transport between islands and in crisis situations, where access to damaged runways is limited.
Beating the pilot rules
WIGs are regulated by the US Coast Guard, not the Federal Aviation Administration. As a result, they should be exempt from the 1,500 hour rule for commercial airline pilots. The WIGs could also be the fist airborne commercial transports to see single-pilot operations.
With an ongoing shortage of staff to fly their smaller passenger jets, regional carriers including Mesa have been forced to scale back operations in recent months. Coming up with a way to operate using crew that don’t have as significant a training regimen or financial barrier to entry could be a huge win.
Of course, this all depends on the planes being developed and the business model evolving to a financially rational position. While pilots for the WIGs may be more readily available, the much smaller planes will limit the utility for commercial passenger service in most US markets.
But Cape Air operates with smaller aircraft in a number of markets, from New England to the Caribbean to the Pacific, where this might be a viable competitor. Ditto for Kenmore Air in the Pacific Northwest.
Plus, there’s no rule that Mesa would have to operate them from existing airports or integrate them with scheduled air service as we know it today.
Mesa’s two other electric aircraft investments include:
- A provisional order with Archer for eVTOL taxi-like aircraft designed to connect passenger to the airport from nearby, but often traffic-challenged environs; and,
- A provisional order with Heart Aerospace for the ES-19, a 19-seat plane that looks and operates more akin to traditional planes today.
Separately, Mesa also signed a similar deal for the Chapparal, an autonomous cargo plane from Elroy Air. In that deal, also announced in recent weeks, the company again highlighted the pilot recruiting challenges as part of the decision to move towards autonomous vehicles.
Of particular note, the two recent orders appear to be outside of the company’s relationship with United Airlines, while the two from 2021 were in partnership with the airline.
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