ExpressJet, one of the operators of United Express, has officially shut down operations this week. United confirmed in July that it planned to shut down one of its regional carriers, choosing to ax ExpressJet. The closure will result in nearly 3,000 employees being laid off in addition to United’s 13,000 employee furlough. CommutAir, another United Express operator, will now operate ExpressJet’s fleet and routes.
United confirmed in late August that it would be ending its contract with ExpressJet by October, choosing to consolidate operations with a single regional carrier. United was ExpressJet’s only client and the airline announced that it would complete its last flight by September 30th, just as CARES Act funding ran out.
Accordingly, ExpressJet’s last United Express flight landed in Houston from Memphis at 1:30 PM on the 30th, marking the end of the carrier, according to Forbes. Roughly 3,000 employees have been laid off due to the closure, who will not be returning to work, unlike other furloughed employees.
Before this crisis, ExpressJet seemed optimistic about its future. The carrier planned to add 36 new aircraft by February 2021 and hire new pilots. United only invested in the airline early last year, purchasing 49.9% for $70 million. However, 2020 has wiped out all of the carrier’s plans.
CommutAir to take over
United’s other ERJ-145 operator, CommutAir, will now take on ExpressJet’s fleet as well as routes. Despite having the smaller ERJ fleet and a less senior pilot group, United picked CommutAir to continue its regional operations primarily due to lower costs. While this will be a boost to the carrier, demand continues to remain low for the foreseeable future.
United has cited the unprecedented drop in travel demand as the reason to cut ExpressJet’s contract. In a previous statement to Simple Flying, a spokesperson said that United will become a smaller carrier in the face of the pandemic, as it has been planning for a while. Things aren’t going too well at the mainline either, with United announcing significant furloughs this week.
Industry braces for painful winter
Congressional payroll support officially ended on October 1st, after leaders could not reach a final deal. Despite intense efforts from airlines, funding failed to come through at the last minute, forcing thousands of furloughs. Nearly 32,000 employees are now furloughed, with United accounting for 13,000 and American for the rest.
While both airlines have said they will bring back all employees if payroll support is extended, it’s unclear when, or if, a deal passes Congress and receives Presidential approval. The ultimate solution remains a pickup in travel demand, which will allow airlines to stem losses. However, with cases in the US still rising, it seems unlikely that demand will return in the next few months.
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