Mesaba Airlines

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Mesaba Airlines
Mesaba Airlines.png
Founded 1944 (as Mesaba Aviation)[1]
Commenced operations February 4, 1974[1]
Ceased operations January 4, 2012 (merged with Pinnacle Airlines)
Frequent-flyer program SkyMiles
Dividend Miles
Airport lounge Sky Clubs
Alliance SkyTeam (Delta Air Lines)
Star Alliance (U.S. Airways)
Fleet size 86
Destinations 64
Parent company Pinnacle Airlines Corp.
Key people John Spanjers (President)

Mesaba Airlines was an U.S. regional airline based in Eagan, Minnesota[2] The airline operated under Mesaba Aviation, Inc. a wholly owned subsidiary of Pinnacle Airlines Corporation. Its flights were operated under the name Delta Connection for Delta Air Lines and US Airways Express for US Airways. Previously, the airline operated as Northwest Airlink and Northwest Jetlink on behalf of Northwest Airlines which subsequently merged with Delta. Mesaba Airlines effectively ceased operations on January 4, 2012, when all aircraft and personnel were transitioned to the Pinnacle Airlines operating certificate. Mesaba's operating certificate was surrendered on July 31, 2012.


Mesaba (from the Ojibwe language, misaabe: "Soaring Eagle")[3][4] was founded in 1944 by Gordy Newstrom in the Mesabi Range city of Coleraine, Minnesota and started operations in the same year under the name of Mesaba Aviation. It had one airplane, a Piper Cub purchased for $1,300, and it was used to shuttle employees of the Blandin Paper Mill Company from Grand Rapids, Minnesota to Minneapolis. In 1950 Newstrom moved the company to Grand Rapids.

In 1970, the Halverson family of Duluth, Minnesota bought Mesaba from Newstrom. On 4 February 1973, they started regularly scheduled airline services serving rural Minnesota communities.

The Swenson family of Thief River Falls, Minnesota purchased Mesaba Aviation in 1977. They took the company public in 1982 as the airline began flying to Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota, using a fleet of Beechcraft 99 turboprops..

In 1983, Mesaba became a codeshare partner of Republic Airlines, flying turboprop aircraft from small regional communities to the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport. In 1986, after the merger of Republic Airlines and Northwest Orient Airlines, Mesaba transitioned their codeshare partnership, and began operations as a Northwest Airlink carrier on behalf of Northwest Airlines.

Mesaba began feeder service from Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport to small airports across the east and midwest utilizing Fokker F27 and Fairchild Metro turboprop aircraft in 1988. Maintenance bases were established both in Detroit and Wausau, Wisconsin.

In 1991, Mesaba began adding the first of 25 de Havilland Canada DHC-8 Dash 8 turboprop aircraft (which were leased from Northwest Airlines) in order to begin replacing older Fokker F27's.

In 1995, Mesaba and Northwest reached an agreement to provide service with Saab 340 turboprop aircraft. By 1996, Mesaba's fleet consisted of 55 aircraft, with projections in 2006 predicting a fleet of 114 aircraft. The company employed 1,540 employees.

At one time Mesaba had its headquarters on the grounds of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and in Fort Snelling, unincorporated Hennepin County, Minnesota.[5][6]

On January 4, 2012, the Mesaba operation was folded into the current Pinnacle Airlines operating certificate. In the future, the Colgan Airlines operating certificate will be renamed Mesaba.

Mesaba's operating certificate was surrendered on July 31, 2012. Mesaba Airlines ended operations as one of the worlds safest air carriers with no fatalities recorded during its 68 years of operations.

Growth into regional jet operations[edit]

A Mesaba Airlines Saab 340B/Plus in NWA Airlink livery shortly after takeoff from Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport on February 28, 2009.

The Northwest Airlines hub in Memphis was exclusively served by Airlink partner Express Airlines I, which later operated as Pinnacle Airlines and now Endeavor Air, until 1997, when Mesaba initiated its first jet aircraft service using the Avro RJ85, the first jetliner type to be flown by either Airlink airline. The Avro RJ85 jetliner, which was a later model version of the British Aerospace BAe 146-200 featuring an improved cabin and more efficient engines, were operated as Northwest Jetlink flights with the aircraft being configured with 16 first class seats and 53 coach seats. Mesaba was split off at this time into Airways Corporation in order to address objections from mainline pilots flying for Northwest concerning Mesaba's operation of a jet fleet. Mesaba also became the first regional airline to have a first class seating option via the Avro RJ85 jets, with this British-built four engine aircraft being approximately twice as large as the 50-passenger regional jets manufactured by Canadair and Embraer. Eventually, as Pinnacle transitioned to an all Canadair CRJ regional jet fleet, Mesaba took over all Northwest Airlink Saab 340 turboprop operations.

The year 2000 brought many changes to Mesaba. The company took delivery of its final Avro RJ85 jet, along with eleven new Saab 340 turboprop aircraft. This made Mesaba the operator of the largest fleet of Avro RJ85 aircraft in the world with 36 of the type, and the second-largest operator of the Saab 340.

After the September 11 terrorist attacks, Mesaba was forced to reduce its workforce by 20% and achieve cost savings. In the fall of 2003, Northwest announced plans to begin retirement of the Avro jet fleet, beginning with five aircraft. The Avro jets, which comprised about half of Mesaba's revenue, were according to Northwest inefficient and aging. However, Mesaba was able to negotiate a deal with Northwest which enabled the Avro fleet to remain in service. In 2005, it was announced that Mesaba would receive fifteen new Canadair CRJ regional jets that would eventually replace the larger Avro jets. Two examples were delivered in early September.[citation needed]


In early 1998, in recognition of the successful introduction of two new airliner types to the fleet (being the Saab 340 propjet and the Avro RJ-85 jetliner) while maintaining excellent operating performance, Mesaba Airlines was presented with the Air Transport World "Regional Airline of the Year for 1997" award. Saab AB painted two new Saab 340 aircraft in special commemorative liveries celebrating both the award and Mesaba's 25th anniversary of scheduled airline service.

On August 31, 2005, Mesaba Airlines was named the winner of the 2005 Operational Excellence Award by AIG Aviation, a U.S. based underwriter of aviation insurance. The award has been presented only four times since its creation in 1998 and recognizes clients that exhibit a strong commitment to building quality safety and loss prevention programs. Mesaba was the unanimous selection out of an entry pool of more than 650 companies.[7]

Bankruptcy filing[edit]

On 14 September 2005, Northwest Airlines filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection. Subsequently, the airline withheld over $25 million in payments from their regional partners Mesaba and Pinnacle. Northwest proceeded to announce plans to ground the entire Avro jet fleet by Q1 2007, ten Saab 340B aircraft by 24 January 2006 and also halt the delivery of the thirteen remaining Canadair CRJ regional jets, leaving Mesaba with an awkward and expensive fleet of two aircraft types. Facing rising fuel costs, downsizing plans, and lack of income from Northwest, Mesaba Aviation filed for Chapter 11 on 13 October 2005.

In an interview in January 2006, Mesaba President John Spanjers announced that the Mesaba fleet would be cut in half by the end of the year. Twelve Avro RJ85 jets had already been removed from the fleet, and the balance would be grounded by the end of the year. Ten Saab 340 "B" model aircraft were returned to Pinnacle Airlines (from whom they were leased) during January 2006 while the three remaining "A" model Saab 340's and the two Canadair CRJ regional jets that had been delivered to Mesaba prior to bankruptcy would leave the fleet before mid-year. These changes left Mesaba with a fleet of 49 Saab 340 turboprops.[citation needed]

As of January 2006, the company employed 3,707 people.

On 14 April 2006 the company announced reductions of the Avro RJ85 fleet, at Northwest Airlines' direction. RJ85 jets ceased flying out of Memphis on June 8, and on October 31 the last RJ85 disappeared from Minneapolis/St. Paul. The last RJ85 aircraft was retired in Detroit on December 4, 2006.

Separately it was announced that one of the two 50-seat Canadair CRJ regional jets operated by Mesaba would be transferred to Northwest in order to initiate flying operations (expected in late 2006) for newly formed Northwest Airlines subsidiary Compass Airlines.

By the end of October 2006, all three of the major unions representing the pilots,[8] flight attendants,[9] and mechanics[10] reached tentative agreements that still needed to be approved by the membership. On November 27, 2006, the three unions announced that their membership had ratified the new agreements.

In December 2006, Northwest Airlines said it was planning to purchase Mesaba Airlines from current owner MAIR Holdings and operate it as a wholly owned subsidiary. Tentative agreements concerning the sale were made; however, the merger could not have been approved without going through bankruptcy board proceedings and approvals of regulators and various interest groups.

On April 24, 2007, Mesaba Airlines emerged from bankruptcy protection and was officially acquired by Northwest Airlines.[11]

Delta-Northwest merger[edit]

With the merging of Northwest Airlines into Delta, Mesaba as part of the overall merger and a subsidiary of Delta Air Lines Inc., underwent numerous changes. A portion of the Saab 340 fleet was relocated to Atlanta. Delta also allocated to Mesaba five more CRJ-900s to be operated out of Salt Lake City.

Mesaba began flying five CRJ-900's for Delta Connection February 12, 2009, with destinations of Las Vegas, San Francisco, Denver, Houston, Dallas/Ft Worth, Minneapolis/St.Paul and Phoenix among others.

On March 2, 2009, Mesaba began flights to Hilton Head, South Carolina, and Tri-Cities Regional Airport, Tennessee, on Saab 340B+ aircraft based in Atlanta.

On April 1, 2009, Mesaba Airlines began operating non-stop service from Tallahassee to Orlando, Tampa, and Fort Lauderdale using its Saab 340B+ aircraft.

Fined for not deplaning passengers[edit]

On November 24, 2009, Mesaba was one of three airlines, including Continental and ExpressJet, fined by the US Department of Transportation for delaying passengers from deplaning for over six hours overnight in Rochester, MN on August 8, 2009. Mesaba's civil penalty was $75,000, 50% more than the fine for Continental and ExpressJet. It was the first fine ever from the DOT for misconduct related to passengers' being held in planes on the tarmac for an extended time.

When the ExpressJet flight was diverted to Rochester due to bad weather in Minneapolis, Mesaba personnel in the Rochester terminal agreed in advance to help deplane the passengers. However, when the plane landed, Mesaba personnel reneged, stating that there were no Transportation Security Administration (TSA) personnel in the terminal. The DOT stated that the rules for such circumstances allow passengers to be deplaned and kept in a secure area, even when there are no TSA personnel available. The DOT ruled that the actions by Mesaba personnel constituted an "unfair and deceptive practice" because they had agreed to deplane the passengers. Continental and ExpressJet were fined because they did not follow their own internal procedures and passenger commitments, and were ultimately responsible for the passengers' welfare.

Since the incident, the ramp personnel in Rochester along with other ground stations handled by Mesaba, Comair, and Compass, have since been merged and renamed Regional Elite Airline Services. REAS, as it is called, operates as a standalone company and provides ground services to Delta, Delta Connection, United Express, and Continental Express aircraft at outstations and the main hubs.

Sale to Pinnacle[edit]

On July 1, 2010, Delta Air Lines announced that Mesaba had been sold to Memphis, TN-based Pinnacle Airlines Corp. for $62 million. The same day, Pinnacle Airlines Corp. said in a press release that they intended to have Mesaba Airlines operate an all-turboprop fleet, whereas Pinnacle Airlines would remain an all-regional jet operator. It was also announced that Pinnacle's other subsidiary, Colgan Air, would cease to exist, and Mesaba would inherit the Colgan fleet of Saab 340s and Bombardier Q400s. In addition, Mesaba Airlines announced that its headquarters in Eagan, MN would close on December 26, 2011. Pinnacle then announced that it would keep the Mesaba corporate name but the headquarters would be located in Memphis, TN.[12][13]

In 2011, Mesaba Airlines began operating flights out of New York's LaGuardia Airport for US Airways under the US Airways Express brand. This codeshare service utilizes Saab 340 aircraft and replaced the service that was being operated by Colgan Air.

On January 4, 2012, the Mesaba operation was folded into the current Pinnacle Airlines operating certificate. It was also announced that the Colgan Airlines operating certificate would be renamed Mesaba.


Mesaba operated a fleet of turboprop and turbofan powered airliners from Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport, Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, Memphis International Airport, John F. Kennedy International Airport, Salt Lake City International Airport and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on codeshare flights primarily to small-to-medium sized cities.

Mesaba began operating as US Airways Express on behalf of US Airways in March 2011, replacing Colgan Air service, with seven Saab 340 aircraft to eight destinations served from New York LaGuardia Airport: Charlottesville, VA; Manchester, NH; Ithaca, NY; Syracuse, NY; Providence, RI; and Washington Dulles, as well as Martha's Vineyard, MA and Nantucket, MA with both of these destinations being served on a seasonal basis.


The Mesaba Airlines fleet consisted of the following aircraft (as of September 7, 2011):[14]

Aircraft Total Options Passengers Notes
F Y Total
Bombardier CRJ-200ER/LR 19 0 50 50
Bombardier CRJ-900ER 41 29 12 64 76 Largest operator of CRJ-900


Aircraft Year Retired Notes Replacement
Fokker F27 Scrapped Dash 8
Beechcraft Model 99 Metroliner
Fairchild Swearingen Metroliner 1997 Converted to freighters, or in the Bahamas Saab 340
De Havilland Canada Dash 8 1998 Sold to Piedmont Airlines Saab 340
Saab 340A 2006 Saab 340B+
Avro RJ85 2006 Operated as Northwest Jetlink flights on behalf of Northwest Airlines. Aircraft were configured with first class and coach sections. Majority transferred to Cityjet (Dublin, Ireland) Bombardier CRJ-900


  1. ^ a b Norwood, Tom; Wegg, John (2002). North American Airlines Handbook (3rd ed.). Sandpoint, ID: Airways International. ISBN 0-9653993-8-9. 
  2. ^ "General Office." Mesaba Airlines. Retrieved on May 19, 2009. "Mesaba Airlines 1000 Blue Gentian Rd. Suite 200 Eagan, Minnesota 55121"
  3. ^ Warren Upham. Minnesota Geographic Names. Collections of the Minnesota Historical Society (Minnesota Historical Society: St. Paul, 1920), pages 486 and 504. Available in fulltext at Google Book Search.
  4. ^ John D. Nichols and Earl Nyholm. A Concise Dictionary of Minnesota Ojibwe. University of Minnesota Press (University of Minnesota: Minneapolis, 1995) ISBN 0-8166-2427-5
  5. ^ "World Airline Directory." Flight International. March 23–29, 1994. 106.
  6. ^ "Fort Snelling UT, Hennepin county, Minnesota." U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved on December 19, 2009.
  7. ^ (Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal: September 1, 2005)
  8. ^ Mesaba Airline Reaches Tentative Agreement (WCCO News: October 28, 2006)
  9. ^ Mesaba Flight Attendants Reach Deal (MPR: October 29, 2006)
  10. ^ Mesaba Aviation Mechanics Agree To Accept Wage Cuts (Detroit Free Press: November 1, 2006)
  11. ^ Northwest Airlines Acquires Mesaba Airlines (Northwest Airlines Press Release: April 24, 2007)
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^ Mesaba Airlines fleet list at Retrieved 2010-05-16.

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