Mesa to replace Air Wisconsin

Spokeswoman confirms airline will discontinue flights

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— A spokeswoman for Air Wisconsin airlines confirmed Friday the regional carrier will discontinue its United Express flights into Yampa Valley Regional airport effective July 7. After that date, the route will be flown by Mesa Air Group, which recently signed a code-sharing agreement with United Airlines.

"Customers and people living in the area won't notice any difference," Air Wisconsin spokeswoman Christine Mangi said.

Mangi said Air Wisconsin's departure is a result of the commuter airline's plans to eliminate turboprop aircraft from its fleet. Airports like YVRA that had been serviced by Air Wisconsin Dornier 328's will now be served by Mesa (the change also affects other Colorado ski towns in including Eagle county airport near Vail).

However, neither Mangi nor an executive at Mesa could confirm what type of aircraft will fly the Denver/YVRA routes. Nor could they say which of the two airlines would operate into YVRA during ski season.

The Steamboat market has enjoyed an all-regional jet commuter fleet from Denver the last two ski seasons. Air Wisconsin/United Express, represented the single biggest share of ski season flights among all the airlines flying here. On an annual basis, Air Wisconsin brought more than 40,000 passengers here.

Last spring, summer and fall, Air Wisconsin flew two Dorniers and one regional jet a day into YVRA.

One published report Friday stated that Mesa had committed 10 37-passenger jets to the Air Wisconsin routes. However, the only 37-passenger aircraft in the airline's fleet is a turboprop.

"I would not have a comment at this point," Mesa vice president of planning Scott Lyon said when asked the type of equipment his airline would fly into the Hayden airport.

Mesa, in its different permutations, operates 124 airplanes with 889 daily departures to 147 cities. Mesa flies four different aircraft, two of them 50-passenger regional jets and two turboprops. The jets are the Embraer 145 and the Canadair. The prop aircraft are the Dash-8 100 and 200 (which carry 36 and 37 passengers), and the 19-passenger Beech 1900.

In addition to flying under its own logo in New Mexico, Mesa operates in the West and Midwest as America West Express, in the Midwest and East as U.S. Airways Express, and in Denver as Frontier JetExpress.

Lyon, whose office is in Phoenix, was not prepared to answer questions about how his company's aircraft would perform with potential summer weight restrictions at YVRA's high-elevation runway. However, when Mesa added the Dash-8 series 200 to its fleet in 1995, it was touted as being well suited to high elevation airports.

This summer's anticipated service on Mesa marks a return to the local airport for the airline. Mesa was persuaded to serve the airport beginning in mid-December 1990 under a code-sharing agreement with United. The agreement came after Continental Express left Steamboat Springs Airport. At the time, Continental Express had represented the only commuter service into the valley.

Mesa's first stay in the valley, sometimes marked by complaints about unreliable service, ended in 1998 when United formed its relationship with Air Wisconsin. Industry experts observe that Mesa has been transformed since that time.

Since 1990, the company's annual revenues have grown from $11 million to $350 million. It has enjoyed 17 consecutive profitable quarters. The company's stock trades on the NASDAQ in the vicinity of $5 a share. Mesa's board chairman is Jonathan Ornstein, who played a role in helping America West airlines emerge from bankruptcy and in founding Virgin Atlantic Airways.

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