Mesa's jets lag behind

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The U.S. Department of Transportation reported this week that Mesa Airlines had the worst record in the nation for canceled flights during the month of January among 21 airlines reporting.

Mesa flies roundtrips between Denver and Yampa Valley Regional Airport under the United Express flag.

The airline's top executive said the raw data doesn't tell the complete story and that his airline has an exemplary record of completing flights into airports with favorable conditions. He said the United Express carrier is asked to fly into difficult airports.

"Where we have good weather and handle our own flights (with ground crews), we operate very well," Mesa Air Group CEO Jonathan Ornstein said.

The Department of Transportation issued its January report this week and said Mesa canceled 4.2 percent of its flights in January. The next worst performance was Atlantic Southeast at 3.1 percent. Hawaiian Airlines came out on top with no canceled flights. Frontier Airlines canceled just 0.3 percent of its flights.

The performance of larger carriers included American with a 0.98 percent cancellation rate and Northwest, with a 1.25 percent cancellation rate.

With 73.6 of its flights in January arriving on time, Mesa ranked 16th.

"In Denver, we completed 98 percent of our flights and had an 82 percent on-time rating," Ornstein said. "In Phoenix, we're in first place. We were on time 90 percent of the time. That's where we handle our own flights."

Department of Trans-portation reports verify Ornstein's remarks about his airline's performance in Denver and Phoenix. The agency does not publish details about airline performance at YVRA in its monthly report.

The report on Mesa's performance comes a week after Ornstein and Steamboat resort officials addressed the airline's effectiveness. A group of civic and business leaders sent a letter late last month to a top executive at United Express in Denver, complaining about Mesa's performance. Ornstein responded with a vigorous rebuttal and demanded a public apology.

This week's report represented the first time the Department of Transportation has reflected Mesa in its report; throughout 2005, the airline's passenger levels didn't rise to the threshold where the government reports airline performance.

The Department of Trans-portation reported that of 25,132 flights operated by Mesa in January, 1,063 were canceled.

Ornstein said that to get a clear picture of an airline's on-time and flight completion performance, it's necessary to take into account the difficulty of the airports it flies into and out of. Los Angeles, for example, is known as an airport where airlines achieve high performance ratings, he said. Mesa doesn't fly that route and isn't among the airlines whose ratings benefit, Ornstein said.

Mesa flies into congested airports such as La Guardia, Atlanta, Chicago O'Hare and Washington Dulles.

With 334 arrivals at Atlanta in January, Mesa was on time just 56.6 of the time, according to the Department of Transportation.

Ornstein said it he was not surprised that Mesa was late during 80 percent of its flights servicing Atlanta or O'Hare in January. The Department of Transportation reported that the average delay on those flights was 61 minutes and the median delay was 28 minutes.

"We get assigned a lot of those routes because United feels comfortable with our ability to complete them," Ornstein said.

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