Mesa Struggles With Spare Parts Shortage For CRJ-900 Fleet

American Eagle CRJ 900
Canada Air CRJ-900
Credit: Rob Finlayson

Mesa Airlines said a shortage of spare parts is leading to elevated maintenance times across its Bombardier CRJ-900 fleet, causing knock-on difficulties across its American Airlines operation.

Phoenix-based regional carrier Mesa Airlines said the spare parts shortage is contained to its CRJ-900 fleet, which it operates exclusively on behalf of Fort Worth-based American Airlines. The lack of available spares is leading to longer-than-average maintenance times for C-checks, causing a downstream delay for other aircraft that require heavy maintenance. The company currently operates 45 CRJ-900s for American, down from 54 aircraft in early 2020.  

While C-checks typically last about 30-35 days per aircraft, Mesa CEO Jonathan Ornstein said that the parts shortage has increased that window to 60-65 days for CRJ-900s, on average, causing knock-on effects across the company’s operation. The regional carrier does have 19 spare CRJ-900s, but a “much fewer number” are actually available to use because the airline deferred much of its heavy maintenance spending during the pandemic. 

Despite the operational headaches with its CRJ-900 fleet, however, Mesa still logged a solid performance in its American operation during its 2021 fiscal third quarter, which ended June 30. The company reported a 99.7% system controllable completion factor and on-time departure rate of 88% for its American flights. 

Ornstein said he expects the spare parts shortages to continue to challenge Mesa’s American operation “into the next fiscal year.”

“We continue to see interruptions in parts availability, which is driving costs higher associated with scheduled heavy maintenance and interior refurbishment upgrades,” Ornstein said on an earnings call. “This also lengthened the time span of our heavy checks, thus impeding our ability to return our aircraft into service and to add additional aircraft into heavy maintenance. The result has been a reduction in the number of spare aircraft to support our daily operations.”

Aside from the CRJ-900 troubles, Mesa is continuing to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic at an encouraging clip. The carrier took delivery of its last four Embraer ERJ-175s during the June quarter, upping the size of its United Airlines fleet to 80 aircraft. It has also removed its 20 CRJ-700 aircraft from service and is in the process of leasing them out to GoJet Airlines, another United regional affiliate. 

Mesa’s burgeoning cargo operation continues to show signs of promise as well. The airline currently operates two Boeing 737-400Fs on behalf of DHL out of Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. Ornstein said the company is considering adding additional aircraft to its freight operation, with an eye on the 737-800 due to limited availability of 737-400s. 

In partnership with United Airlines, Mesa has also emerged as a leader in sustainability over the last year. In February, the company signed a conditional agreement to operate 100 eVTOL air taxis produced by Archer Aviation on behalf of United. And following its June quarter results, the carrier announced a separate conditional order of 100 19-seat ES-19 electric aircraft, produced by Heart Aerospace, which will also be part of its United fleet.

Mesa earned a net income of $4.3 million in the June quarter, compared to $3.4 million a year earlier. Total operating revenues increased by 71.2% year-over-year (YOY) to $125 million, while operating expenses increased by 91.4%, to $110.8 million. Block hours surged 169% YOY to 85,162.

Ben Goldstein

Based in Washington, Ben covers Congress, regulatory agencies, the Departments of Justice and Transportation and lobby groups.