Comeback? ExpressJet Gets Tentative Approval To Restart Flights

ExpressJet has been given tentative approval by the US Department of Transportation (DOT) to restart operations as an independent carrier. The regional airline, which ceased operating in September 2020, plans to serve small and medium cities that have lost or seen a big reduction in air service. But it won’t be the first time that ExpressJet has had its own-branded operations.

ExpressJet Embraer 145
ExpressJet has received tentative approval to relaunch. It had its own-brand service in 2007 and 2008 in this livery. Photo: BriYYZ via Flickr.

The comeback kid

Having announced in April that it would restart as an independent operator, the DOT has now indicated that ExpressJet is “fit, willing, and able” to conduct interstate and international operations. In a ruling, the DOT concluded that:

“We have reviewed the air carrier’s forecasts and find them to be reasonable. We tentatively conclude that ExpressJet has access to sufficient financial resources to enable it to resume operations without posing an undue risk to consumers or their funds.”

Any objection to the decision must be filed within seven days of the decision being made. Any objection must detail why tentative approval should not be made final. We should know shortly if ExpressJet is definitely able to fly again.

ExpressJet Embraer 145
We don’t yet know ExpressJet’s coming routes or livery. However, it is very likely to operate daily services as it did before. Photo: Konstantin Von Wedelstaedt via Wikimedia.

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What is the latest?

ExpressJet’s fleet consisted solely of 50-seat Embraer 145s (both LRs and XRs) when it ceased operating. Headquartered in Atlanta, ExpressJet most recently operated as United Express.

Now, ExpressJet anticipates relaunching its own-brand services with one Embraer 145 before boosting its fleet to 10 aircraft within 12 months. The DOT’s tentative approval is for 10 aircraft, with any growth beyond that requiring authorization from the regulator.

ExpressJet Embraer 145
Over the years, ExpressJet has operated as American Eagle, Continental Express, Delta Connection, and United Express. Photo: Alan Wilson via Flickr.

Point-to-point operations coming

The revived airline expects to focus on tier-two and tier-three cities that have lost or seen significant reductions in air service following both airline consolidation in recent years and the pandemic. This is very similar to new entrant Breeze Airways, whose first revenue flight was two months ago.

ExpressJet’s network will be purely point-to-point (P2P), and it says its average route length will be about 540 miles. This very much harks back to its independent days that began some 14 years ago.

ExpressJet Embraer 145
Like most start-ups (or, in this case, revivals), ExpressJet is to target unserved or meaningful underserved airport-pairs. Photo: Andrew E. Cohen via Flickr.

Independent operations kicked off in 2007

ExpressJet’s own-branded P2P services began on April 2nd, 2007, with service from Ontario, California, to Austin, Boise, Kansas City, Omaha, San Antonio, Spokane, and Tucson. Its independent operations complemented its capacity purchase agreement (CPA) flying with major carriers.

At 1,419 miles, Tulsa to Sacramento was the longest route, and ExpressJet’s own routes had an average distance of 707 miles. That is long for the economics of 50-seat jets, especially if fuel prices rise, meaning that high seat-mile costs necessitated high revenue per mile. There would have been relatively little demand growth.

ExpressJet's own-branded routes 2007-2008
These were ExpressJet’s own-branded routes in 2007-2008. Will any return? Image: GCMap.

69 routes in all

ExpressJet’s own-branded operations ended in August 2008. It had 69 routes in this year-and-a-bit with a total of 4.8 million seats, according to Cirium. It grew very rapidly, which is always dangerous, with its network encompassing 16 states.

As you might expect from the above map, California was hugely important, with nearly 40% of its total seats. Texas was second with 14%. Network-wide, Ontario, San Diego, Sacramento, Austin, San Antonio, Albuquerque, New Orleans, Tucson, Kansas City, and Raleigh Durham were its top-10 airports. Will it reserve any of these this time?

ExpressJet Embraer 145
ExpressJet’s independent operations revolved around California and Texas. Photo: Tomás Del Coro via Flickr.

Ontario to Tucson was #1 own-brand route

Across its 15-month life, ExpressJet’s top-10 routes were as follows, ordered by total seats. Only three of these are served in 2021: Spokane-Sacramento by Southwest; Fresno-San Diego with Alaska; and Jacksonville-New Orleans by Silver Airways.

  1. Ontario-Tucson
  2. Albuquerque-Tucson
  3. Sacramento-Spokane
  4. Fresno-San Diego
  5. Austin-Ontario
  6. Ontario-Boise
  7. Sacramento-Tucson
  8. Ontario-San Antonio
  9. Jacksonville-New Orleans
  10. Spokane-Ontario

The remaining seven had approximately 272,000 round-trip passengers in 2019, according to booking data. Even Spokane-Ontario had around 39,000, a pretty significant amount, but size is just one consideration in developing new routes.

Where would you like to see the revived ExpressJet serve? Let us know in the comments.