MIAMI – Today in Aviation, commuter carrier Air Wisconsin Airlines (ZW) started operations in 1965, just one day after Outagamie County Regional Airport was opened. The regional airfield was later renamed Appleton International Airport (ATW).

For the occasion, ZW used a de Havilland Dove commuter aircraft configured with nine passenger seats. The airline is currently based at ATW in the town of Greenville, Wisconsin, US. 

Air Wisconsin BAe 146 series 200 at Chicago O’Hare in 1987. Photo: RuthAS, CC BY 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Air Wisconsin Origins


Air Wisconsin was founded to connect Appleton with Chicago. The airline initially had 17 employees and two de Havilland Dove aircraft. According to the August 23, 1965, Air Wisconsin timetable, the airline was flying one route between Appleton and Chicago O’Hare Airport (ORD).  

The Appleton-Chicago route consisted of four round trips on weekdays and two round trips on Saturdays and Sundays operated with the British-manufactured Dove twin prop aircraft.

By the mid-1970s, Air Wisconsin was flying two small commuter turboprop airliner types: a de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter and a Swearingen Metro. It was operating a small hub at ORD with service primarily to destinations in Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin and to Minneapolis/Saint Paul from several small cities in its home state.

US Airways Express Bombardier CRJ200 operated by Air Wisconsin at Portland, Maine. Photo: BMMR, CC BY 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

From Commuter to Regional Carrier


In September 1978, the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) certified the airline as a regional air carrier. ZW previously had commuter air carrier status with the CAB. In October of 78, it had over US$10m in assets.

Thus, by 1985, Air Wisconsin had become a large independent regional air carrier operating British Aerospace BAe 146-200 and British Aircraft Corporation BAC One-Eleven jets as well as de Havilland Canada DHC-7 Dash 7 turboprops.

At the time, it flew as far west as Grand Island, Nebraska, and Minneapolis/Saint Paul, and as far east as Bridgeport and New Haven, Connecticut with a large connecting hub located at ORD.

Former United Express Bombardier CRJ200 operated by Air Wisconsin at Chicago O’Hare International Airport. Photo: Skajake at en.Wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Air Wisconsin: a Codesharing Pioneer


As a United Express carrier working on behalf of United Airlines (UA), Air Wisconsin has pioneered the idea of code sharing. As a result, in the 1980s ZW became one of the greatest regional airlines in the country.

The carrier initially operated in 1986 as one of the founding partners of United Express. It then operated as US Airways Express on behalf of US Airways (US) before becoming a regional air carrier for American Airlines (AA) in the American Eagle region.

The airline operated United Express codeshare service from two United hubs by late 1989: the ORD in Chicago and the International Airport (IAD) in Washington Dulles. United Express flights were run with British Aerospace BAe 146-200 jets and Fokker F27 Friendship turboprops at this time, the Official Airline Guide (OAG) reports.

In 1990 Air Wisconsin acquired Aspen Airways (AP), based in Denver, which was purchased a year later by UA itself. At one stage Air Wisconsin operated BAe ATP turboprop aircraft on United Express services as well as BAe 146-100, BAe 146-200, and BAe 146-300 jet aircraft.

In 1993, UA sold ZW and the BAe 146 fleet to CJT Holdings. ZW was then renamed Air Wisconsin Airlines Corporation (AWAC), as UA kept the Air Wisconsin name and logo rights.

American Eagle (Air Wisconsin) Bombardier CRJ-200 N457AW Photo: BriYYZ from Toronto, Canada, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Air Wisconsin in the New Millenium


After other acquisitions during the 1990s, the new ZW invested US$175m into US Airways in 2005 in exchange for a long-term contract operating as US Airways Express.

Nine years later an attempt at a Delta Air Lines (DL) deal for ZW to operate as a Delta Connection will be scrapped. Nevertheless, until March 2018 ZW continued its codesharing activities as a regional air carrier for the American Eagle via a code-sharing arrangement with AA.

Since March of that year, ZW has once again been operating solely as a United Express regional air carrier with primary hubs located at ORD and IAD.

The airline currently serves 75 destinations under United Express, with nearly 350 flights a day. The regional carrier had annually transported nearly six million passengers by 2019.


Featured image: Swearingen Metro of Air Wisconsin departing from Chicago O’Hare in 1973. Photo: RuthAS, CC BY 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons