Messaba Aviation, Inc. (operating as Mesaba Airlines) was an American regional airline based in Eagan, Minnesota The airline was a wholly owned subsidiary of Pinnacle Airlines Corporation. Its flights operated as Delta Connection for Delta Air Lines and US Airways Express for US Airways. Previously, the airline operated as Northwest Airlink and Northwest Jetlink on behalf of Northwest Airlines which subsequently merged with Delta. Mesaba Airlines effectively ceased operations on January 4, 2012, when all aircraft and personnel were transitioned to the Pinnacle Airlines operating certificate. Mesaba's operating certificate was surrendered on July 31, 2012.
Mesaba (from the Ojibwe language, misaabe: "Soaring Eagle") was founded in 1944 by Gordy Newstrom in the Mesabi Range city of Coleraine, Minnesota and started operations in the same year under the name of Mesaba Aviation. It had one airplane, a Piper Cub purchased for $1,300, and it was used to shuttle employees of the Blandin Paper Mill Company from Grand Rapids, Minnesota to Minneapolis. In 1950 Newstrom moved the company to Grand Rapids.
In 1970, the Halverson family of Duluth, Minnesota bought Mesaba from Newstrom. On 4 February 1973, they started regularly scheduled airline services serving rural Minnesota communities.
The Swenson family of Thief River Falls, Minnesota purchased Mesaba Aviation in 1977. They took the company public in 1982 as the airline began flying to Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota, using a fleet of Beechcraft 99 turboprops.
In 1983, Mesaba became a codeshare partner of Republic Airlines, flying turboprop aircraft from small regional communities to the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport. In 1986, after the merger of Republic Airlines and Northwest Orient Airlines, Mesaba transitioned their codeshare partnership, and began operations as a Northwest Airlink carrier on behalf of Northwest Airlines.
Mesaba began feeder service from Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport to small airports across the east and midwest utilizing Fokker F27 and Fairchild Metro turboprop aircraft in 1988. Maintenance bases were established both in Detroit and Wausau, Wisconsin.
In 1991, Mesaba began adding the first of 25 de Havilland Canada DHC-8 Dash 8 turboprop aircraft (which were leased from Northwest Airlines) in order to begin replacing older Fokker F27s.
In 1995, Mesaba and Northwest reached an agreement to provide service with Saab 340 turboprop aircraft. By 1996, Mesaba's fleet consisted of 55 aircraft, with projections of 114 aircraft by 2016. The company employed 1,540 employees.
At one time Mesaba had its headquarters on the grounds of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and in Fort Snelling, unincorporated Hennepin County, Minnesota.
Growth into jet operations
The Northwest Airlines hub in Memphis was exclusively served by Airlink partner Express Airlines I, which later operated as Pinnacle Airlines and now Endeavor Air, until 1997, when Mesaba initiated its first jet aircraft service using the Avro RJ85, the first jetliner type to be flown by either Airlink airline. The Avro RJ85 jetliner, which was a later model version of the British Aerospace BAe 146-200 featuring an improved cabin and more efficient engines, were operated as Northwest Jetlink flights with the aircraft being configured with 16 first class seats and 53 coach seats. Mesaba was split off at this time into Airways Corporation in order to address objections from mainline pilots flying for Northwest concerning Mesaba's operation of a jet fleet. Mesaba also became the first regional airline to have a first class seating option via the Avro RJ85 jets, with this British-built four engine aircraft being approximately twice as large as the 50-passenger regional jets manufactured by Canadair and Embraer. Eventually, as Pinnacle transitioned to an all Canadair CRJ regional jet fleet, Mesaba took over all Northwest Airlink Saab 340 turboprop operations.
In 2000, the company took delivery of its final Avro RJ85 jet, along with eleven new Saab 340 turboprop aircraft. This made Mesaba the operator of the largest fleet of Avro RJ85 aircraft in the world with 36 of the type, and the second-largest operator of the Saab 340.
After the September 11 terrorist attacks, Mesaba was forced to reduce its workforce by 20% to achieve cost savings. In the fall of 2003, Northwest wanted to retire the Avro jet fleet, which comprised about half of Mesaba's revenue. They were inefficient and aging, according to Northwest. However, Mesaba was able to negotiate a deal with Northwest which enabled the Avro fleet to remain in service. In 2005, Mesaba began receiving fifteen new Canadair CRJ regional jets that would eventually replace the larger Avro jets.
On September 14, 2005, Northwest Airlines filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection. Subsequently, the airline withheld over US$25 million in payments from their regional partners, Mesaba and Pinnacle. Northwest proceeded to announce plans to ground the entire Avro jet fleet by Q1 2007, ten Saab 340B aircraft by January 2006 and also halt the delivery of the 13 remaining CRJs, leaving Mesaba with an awkward and expensive fleet of two aircraft types. Facing rising fuel costs, downsizing plans, and lack of income from Northwest, Mesaba filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy on October 13, 2005.
In an interview in January 2006, Mesaba President John Spanjers announced that the Mesaba fleet would be cut in half by the end of the year. Twelve Avro RJ85 jets had already been removed from the fleet, and the balance would be grounded by the end of the year. Ten Saab 340 "B" model aircraft were returned to Pinnacle Airlines (from whom they were leased) during January 2006 while the three remaining "A" model Saab 340's and the two CRJs that had been delivered to Mesaba prior to bankruptcy would leave the fleet before mid-year. These changes left Mesaba with a fleet of 49 Saab 340 turboprops.
On April 14, 2006 the company announced reductions of the Avro RJ85 fleet, at Northwest Airlines' direction. The RJ85 jets ceased flying out of Memphis on June 8, Minneapolis/St. Paul on October 31, and Detroit on December 4, 2006. Separately it was announced that one of the two 50-seat Canadair CRJ regional jets operated by Mesaba would be transferred to Northwest in order to initiate flying operations (expected in late 2006) for newly formed Northwest Airlines subsidiary Compass Airlines.
By the end of October 2006, all three of the major unions representing the pilots, flight attendants, and mechanics reached tentative agreements that still needed to be approved by the membership. On November 27, 2006, the three unions announced that their membership had ratified the new agreements.
In December 2006, Northwest Airlines planned to purchase Mesaba Airlines from owner MAIR Holdings and operate it as a wholly owned subsidiary. Tentative agreements concerning the sale were made; however, the merger could not have been approved without going through bankruptcy board proceedings and approvals of regulators and various interest groups. On April 24, 2007, Mesaba Airlines emerged from bankruptcy protection and was officially acquired by Northwest Airlines.
With the merging of Northwest Airlines into Delta Air Lines, Mesaba underwent numerous changes as a subsidiary of the new company. A portion of the Saab 340 fleet was relocated to Atlanta. Delta also allocated five more CRJ-900s to Mesaba to be operated out of Salt Lake City. In 2009, several routes were added, utilizing the new CRJ-900s and the existing Saab 340 aircraft.
Sale to Pinnacle
On July 1, 2010, Delta Air Lines sold Mesaba to Pinnacle Airlines Corporation for $62 million. The same day, Pinnacle Airlines Corporation announced that they intended to have Mesaba Airlines operate an all-turboprop fleet, whereas sister company, Pinnacle Airlines, would remain an all-jet operator. It was also announced that Pinnacle's other subsidiary, Colgan Air, would cease to exist, and Mesaba would inherit the Colgan fleet of Saab 340s and Bombardier Q400s. In time, all aircraft and personnel were transferred to Pinnacle Airlines.
In 2011, Mesaba Airlines began operating flights out of New York's LaGuardia Airport for US Airways under the US Airways Express brand. This codeshare service utilizes Saab 340 aircraft and replaced the service that was being operated by Colgan Air.
On January 4, 2012, Mesaba was folded into Pinnacle Airlines. Mesaba's operating certificate was surrendered on July 31, 2012. Mesaba Airlines ended operations as one of the worlds safest air carriers with no fatalities recorded during its 68 years of operations.