In 1995, Mesa Airlines surprised the regional airline world and bought two, 78-passenger Fokker 70 jets with options for six more. This move surprised most people in the industry who knew Mesa as a rather conservative airline. The Fokker 70 was a shortened version of the Fokker 100 airliner, which was already in service with American Airlines and US Airways.
Both Embraer and Bombardier, who manufactured competing regional jets, had been courting Mesa, but a salesman who worked with Fokker had connections to Larry Risley. He had been the one who convinced Larry to buy his first turboprop (C-99) from Beechcraft in 1983, and he was successful in convincing Larry to buy the Dutch jet. It was a bit of a stretch to call the Fokker 70 a “regional jet” as its big brother, the Fokker 100, was about the size of a DC-9. The Fokker 70 was basically the same jet as the Fokker 100, only 15-feet shorter.
The Fokkers were to be operated under a new Mesa subsidiary named Desert Sun Airlines and placed into the Phoenix/America West Express system. They first flew out of Phoenix to Des Moines, Iowa, and Spokane, Washington (through Las Vegas.) The second airplane was later moved out of Spokane to serve Fresno, California out of Phoenix. Mesa also had a Fokker maintenance base in Fresno.
In January 1996, Daimler-Benz (makers of Mercedes automobiles) decided to focus on its automobile business and cut ties with Fokker. That was a death blow to Fokker Aircraft, and by March 1996, Fokker was declared bankrupt. They would not be able to deliver on future airplanes, so Mesa decided to return the two Fokkers they had under lease and eventually replaced them with Canadair Regional Jets.