CLEVELAND — Mesa Air Group has been growing since it emerged from bankruptcy in early 2010. At the reigns of the airline is President and CEO Jonathan Ornstein. Often known for “Rocking the boat,” he spoke to media at the Regional Airline Association convention in Cleveland earlier this month about the 1,500 hour rule and how Mesa continues to grow.

Just last month, Mesa took delivery of its 100th regional jet which has helped it be one of the fastest growing airlines in the country.

Lots of Growth

Mesa Air Group operates flights for American and United to more than 180 cities in North America, and it keeps growing and growing as it adds more aircraft to its fleet. Since emerging from bankruptcy, Mesa has tripled its fleet as it takes on more CRJ-900 flying for American and E175 flying for United.

Part of the success Ornstein lies in the relationship Mesa has with Bombardier. They go back about 25 years since Mesa was the launch customer of the CRJ-900. Ornstein says he is very happy with Bombardier and their relationship as “they have stood behind us and with us.” He also knows the mainline airlines are happy with the CRJ-900 as American recently told him that the CRJ-900 is one of the most profitable regional aircraft they operate.

He went on to say that they are adding as many CRJ-900s they can get their hands on, and it has been looking at the used aircraft market quite a bit. 

Ornstein is also happy with the relationship it has with Embraer as it continues to add E175s for United.

Fixing the Problem

Ornstein believes that Mesa’s big problem was having too many 50 seat CRJ-200 aircraft in its fleet with very few contracts for them. Since, it has retired all but one CRJ-200. It also went through a restructuring in bankruptcy that Ornstein believes has made the regional airline a lot stronger and more flexible to compete which is why it was awarded some of the E175s United ordered.

Although, Ornstein says “there are good markets” for 50 seat regional jets, but “while fuel costs dropping has helped, the real problem is the engines. You can lease a fully operational hull for $10,000 a month. Leasing an engine costs $50,000 a month.”

Ornstein Speaks Out on 1500 Hour Rule

In regards to the 1500 rule, Ornstein says: “Last year, I made some fairly controversial statements about Congress. This year I’m going to tell you straight: the 1500 hour rule has zero foundation in safety; in fact it is the opposite. The pilots who are logging flight time on their own in an unstructured environment fail airline interviews at twice the rate of those who have worked in a structured environment, such as an air carrier. For the future of the industry we have to take this problem head on and not worry about the backlash. If the FAA truly wants to enhance safety it will get this 1500 rule repealed. The military has guys flying missions in Iraq with 400 hours. And when the quality of training was controlled, we had better pilots,” as quoted by Regional Horizons.

The 1500 hour rule was enacted in July 2013. When it was announced, the FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said: “The rule gives first officers a stronger foundation of aeronautical knowledge and experience before they fly for an air carrier. With this rule and our efforts to address pilot fatigue – both initiatives championed by the families of Colgan flight 3407 – we’re making a safe system even safer.”