At the end of 1997, Larry Risley announced that he was stepping down from the helm at Mesa Airlines. The Board of Directors chose Jonathan Ornstein to be Larry’s replacement. Ornstein had been at Mesa from 1989 to 1994, when he left to run Continental Express. From there he went to Europe to help Richard Branson create a new feeder airline named Virgin Express out of Belgium. Jonathan took over Mesa on June 1, 1998, and upon his return, he began to make changes right away.
He changed the company’s look and logo. An employee contest for a new branding was held and a new logo was chosen featuring yellow and purple colors, a sun on the tail, and the motto “It’s a New Day.” Mesa painted a BE1900 in an eye-catching bright purple and yellow with a large orange sun on the side to show off the new identity. The rest of the Mesa branded airplanes were repainted in a demure white paint job with purple and yellow trim and the orange sun on the tail.
The company moved the headquarters from Farmington to Phoenix to the Phoenix Gateway Center building at 410 North 44th Street, just north of the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. They also relocated the training center from the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex to Phoenix as well. Ornstein’s first operational move was to shutter the Fort Worth independent jet operation and move those regional jets east to the US Airways codeshare. Next, all of the BE1900s were transferred to the Air Midwest operating certificate, even the Mesa-painted airplanes in Albuquerque. Mesa had to deal with the loss of the United code share and the closure of WestAir, which means they were tasked with shedding several surplus airplanes, including 40 BE1900s, 21 British Aerospace Jetstream J-31s, and 36 Embraer Brasilias. This left Mesa with 24 Canadair Regional Jets, 12 Dash 8-200s, and 79 Beechcraft 1900Ds.
Mesa negotiated a new six-year agreement with America West Airlines, which also increased the planned number of regional jets in that system. They expanded the US Airways code share agreement, increasing the number of regional jets from 12 to 28. It was clear that the new Mesa was a very different company with a new identity and focused more on regional jets. Over the next few years, Mesa would make several strategic moves which would change the face of the airline.