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Freedom 2 the Delta Connection

Updated: Oct 16, 2023

As mentioned in an earlier post, US Airways declared bankruptcy for a second time in 2004, and offered its codeshare partners an opportunity to invest in the company’s restructuring if they wanted to continue their partnership with US Airways. Mesa declined to put up the $150 million dollars in a move US Airways called “pay to play”, and as a result US Airways canceled Mesa’s contract.

Some of the airplanes were moved over to a new contract with United Airlines, but Mesa was left with over thirty EMB-145 regional jets with no place to fly. Mesa knew that Delta was looking for a new partner, because Atlantic Coast Airlines (ACA) had backed out of their Delta Connection contract. They had been flying thirty Dornier 328 jets for Delta out of JFK airport in New York City. This left Delta Airlines in a bind, because JFK was in the process of reapportioning slots and with ACA gone, Delta was afraid they would lose some, or all, of the slots assigned to them.

Mesa came to Delta’s rescue and designed a plan to operate Dash 8-100s out of JFK to build up Delta’s presence at JFK. The problem was that the scope clause the Delta mainline pilots had, would not allow Delta to partner with an airline that operated any airplanes over seventy-six seats, which meant Mesa was not a viable candidate. So, Mesa reactivated their Freedom Airlines certificate and put the Dash 8s on that certificate. The agreement was for Mesa to operate as many as 10 Dash 8s out of JFK, although they never reached that number. Mesa had problems locating available Dash 8s and ended up picking up airplanes that had been in storage up in the tundra in Canada. They even outbid a museum for one of the Dash 8s and they ended up operating a Dash 8 with serial number 3, one of the original Dash 8 aircraft.

Delta later awarded Mesa (Freedom) a contact to fly fifty-passenger regional jets out of Orlando, and Mesa put the idled US Airways EMB-145s on those routes. Later, Delta moved most of the Orlando flying to JFK as the Dash 8 operation wound down. Delta also purchased several CRJ-905s, which were a specially configured CRJ-900s with a 76-seat configuration versus Mesa’s 79-seat CRJ-900s. Delta contracted with Mesa to operate the CRJ-905s.

When the ex-CEO of Northwest Airlines, Richard Anderson, took over Delta in 2008, they began to scrutinize the contracts with regional airlines and Mesa Air Group was informed that they were canceling the contracts with Freedom Airlines over performance issues. Mesa sued Delta and originally a judge issued a preliminary injunction to prevent Delta from canceling the contracts. Delta had already moved the Freedom flying out of JFK, so after the preliminary injunction, Delta relocated the Freedom EMB-145s to Cincinnati.

Mesa’s lawsuit to prevent Delta from canceling the contracts went to court and Delta argued that Mesa had not met the performance goals outlined in the contract. Mesa countered that most of the performance delays were caused by Delta asking Mesa to cancel flights. In the end, the judge ruled in Delta’s favor in May 2010 and the Delta Connection flying went away. Expecting to lose the lawsuit and sitting on a glut of idle airplanes, Mesa had already filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy earlier in 2010. They simply had too many unused airplanes and they need the court’s help to get out from under the leases to which they were committed.

Mesa started their partnership with Delta flying Dash 8-100s out of JFK as Freedom Airlines.

Mesa operated the EMB-145s as Freedom Airlines out of first Orlando, then JFK, and finally Cincinnati.

Delta also purchased CRJ-905s (76-passenger CRJ-900) which Freedom Airlines operated out of JFK.

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