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Mesa Creates Freedom Airlines

Updated: Oct 16, 2023

In May 2001, Mesa entered into an agreement with Bombardier to purchase twenty new larger regional jets, with an option for eighty more. The new jets were the CRJ-700 and CRJ-900 series (with capacities of around 70 and 90 passengers respectively). Mesa management approached the pilot group and asked them to propose rates for the new jets which would be operated as America West Express (US Airways had scope language that prevented Mesa from flying them under the US Airways codeshare). But America West management balked at the proposed rates, Mesa presented them to them. That is because the codesharing agreement had them reimbursing Mesa for their pilot cost and America West management pointed out that the rates proposed were more than they were paying their Boeing 757 captains.

Rather than getting drawn into protracted negotiations, Jonathan Ornstein decided there was a loophole in the Mesa pilot scope language that provided him another option. The language at the time said any flying for an airline operating on the Mesa Airlines operating certificate must be done by pilots on the Mesa airlines seniority list. But the restriction did not apply to any flying for the umbrella company, Mesa Air Group, done by pilots on a different operating certificate.

Mesa created a new airline called Freedom Airlines, and offered employment to any pilot from Mesa or Air Midwest who was willing to give up their seniority to go to the new airline. Freedom began operating in October 2002, and the friction between the two pilot groups was palpable. Freedom became a pariah in the industry as they were seen as a non-union airline trying to undercut the pay of union pilots. ALPA filed a lawsuit against Mesa for failure to bargain in good faith. When Freedom first began to fly, Mesa pilots would show up for work to discover the airplane they were scheduled to fly was being replaced by a Freedom airplane, and they would not get paid for their original trip. The tension built in the industry, and other ALPA airlines refused to enter into reciprocal jumpseating agreements with Freedom.

Eventually, the Mesa pilots and management agreed to rates of pay for the new jets in return for the company agreeing to scope language that would guarantee that any flying performed by pilots for an airline owned by Mesa Air Group would be done by pilots on the Mesa seniority list.

Freedom moved the CRJ-700s and 900s to the Mesa operating certificate. The Freedom pilots that came from Mesa returned to the Mesa seniority list in their previous position and the non-Mesa pilots would we placed on the Mesa seniority list with their Freedom hire date. One Beechcraft 1900 was left on the Freedom certificate to keep it active.

At a later date, Freedom Airlines would be reactivated, which is a topic discussed in a future post.

Freedom CRJ 900 in America West colors and Freedom logo

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