Mesaba Airlines

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Mesaba Airlines
IATA ICAO Callsign
Founded1944 (1944)
(as Mesaba Aviation)[1]
Commenced operationsFebruary 4, 1974 (1974-02-04)[1]
Ceased operationsJanuary 4, 2012 (2012-01-04)
(merged with Pinnacle Airlines to form Endeavor Air)
Frequent-flyer program
Parent company
HeadquartersEagan, Minnesota, United States[2]
Key peopleJohn Spanjers (President)

Mesaba Aviation, Inc. (operating as Mesaba Airlines) was a regional airline in the United States that operated from 1944 until 2012, when it merged with Pinnacle Airlines to form Endeavor Air. It was based in Eagan, Minnesota[3] From 2010 to 2012 the airline was a wholly owned subsidiary of Pinnacle Airlines Corp. with code sharing flights operated as Delta Connection for Delta Air Lines and US Airways Express for US Airways. Previously, the airline operated code sharing service as Northwest Airlink and Northwest Jetlink on behalf of Northwest Airlines which subsequently merged with Delta. Mesaba also previously operated connecting flight services in association with Republic Airlines before this air carrier was subsequently merged into Northwest. 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")[4][5] 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.[6]

In 1973, the Halverson family of Duluth, Minnesota, bought Mesaba from Newstrom. Subsequently, they started regularly scheduled airline services serving Spencer, Iowa, Ely, Virginia, and Duluth.[6]

The Swenson family of Thief River Falls, Minnesota, purchased Mesaba Aviation in 1977. They took the company public in 1982[7] as the airline began flying to destinations in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota with Beechcraft 99 commuter turboprops.[6]

In 1983, Mesaba became a codeshare partner of Republic Airlines, flying regional and commuter 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 its codeshare partnership and began operations as a Northwest Airlink carrier on behalf of Northwest Airlines.[6]

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. The same year, Mesaba managed to add an additional 325 employees. It also expanded its network to four new routes including Cleveland, Dayton and Akron in Ohio, and Erie, Pennsylvania.[6]

In 1991, Mesaba built two new hangar facilities, in Detroit and Wausau, Wisconsin, and added the first of 25 de Havilland Canada DHC-8 Dash 8 turboprop aircraft, leased from Northwest Airlines.[6]

In 1995, Mesaba and Northwest reached an agreement to provide service with Saab 340 turboprop aircraft.[6] By 1997, Mesaba added additional flights to several new cities including Aspen, Colorado, Bozeman, Montana and Montreal in Canada.[6] In 1999, Forbes placed Mesaba at number 41 on their list of Top 200 Small Companies in America.[6]

Growth into jet operations[edit]

A Mesaba Airlines Saab 340 in NWA Airlink livery shortly after takeoff from Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport on February 28, 2009.
A Mesaba-operated Avro RJ85 taxiing at Detroit Metropolitan Airport in 2003

The Northwest Airlines hub in Memphis was exclusively served by Airlink partner Express Airlines I, which later operated as Pinnacle Airlines and is 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 BAe 146-200 featuring an improved cabin and more efficient engines, was operated on Northwest Jetlink flights with the aircraft being configured with 16 first class seats and 53 coach seats. This marked the first time a regional airline had offered first class as well as a coach on a regional jet aircraft. 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 jet, 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 Bombardier CRJ regional jet fleet, Mesaba took over 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 400 employees to achieve cost savings.[8] 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.[citation needed]


On September 14, 2005, Northwest Airlines filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection.[9] 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.[10]

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 Bombardier CRJ regional jets 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.[citation needed]

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 CRJ-200 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,[11] flight attendants,[12] and mechanics[13][dead link] 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.[14]

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 Bombardier CRJ-900 regional jets to Mesaba to be operated out of Delta's Salt Lake City hub. In 2009, several routes were added, utilizing the new CRJ-900s and the existing Saab 340 aircraft.

Fined for not deplaning passengers[edit]

On November 24, 2009, Mesaba was one of three airlines, including Continental Airlines and ExpressJet, fined by the US Department of Transportation (DOT) for delaying passengers from deplaning for over six hours overnight in Rochester, MN on August 8, 2009. Mesaba's civil penalty was US$75,000, 50% more than the fine for Continental and ExpressJet.[15] It was the first fine ever from the DOT for misconduct related to passengers' being held in planes on the tarmac for an extended time.

When the ExpressJet flight was diverted to Rochester due to bad weather in Minneapolis, Mesaba personnel in the Rochester terminal agreed in advance to help deplane the passengers. However, when the plane landed, Mesaba personnel reneged, stating that there were no TSA personnel in the terminal. The DOT stated that the rules for such circumstances allow passengers to be deplaned and kept in a secure area, even when there are no TSA personnel available. The DOT ruled that the actions by Mesaba personnel constituted an "unfair and deceptive practice" because they had agreed to deplane the passengers. Continental and ExpressJet were fined because they did not follow their own internal procedures and passenger commitments, and were ultimately responsible for the passengers' welfare.[15]

Since the incident, the ramp personnel in Rochester along with other ground stations handled by Mesaba, Comair, and Compass, have since been merged and renamed Regional Elite Airline Services (REAS).

Sale to Pinnacle[edit]

On July 1, 2010, Delta Air Lines sold Mesaba to Pinnacle Airlines Corporation for $62 million.[16] 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.[2][dead link][17][dead link]

In 2011, Mesaba Airlines began operating flights out of New York City's LaGuardia Airport for US Airways under the US Airways Express brand. This codeshare service utilized Saab 340 aircraft and replaced the service that was being operated by Colgan Air.

Ultimately Colgan's Bombardier Q400 turboprops were never transferred to Mesaba as they were retired from service by United Express, whom they operated for on a code sharing basis on behalf of United Airlines, before the transition from Colgan to Mesaba took place.

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 world's safest air carriers with no fatalities recorded during its 68 years of operations.


In early 1998, in recognition of the successful introduction of two new airliner types to the fleet (the Saab 340 and the Avro RJ85) while maintaining excellent operating performance, Mesaba Airlines was presented with the Air Transport World (ATW) "Regional Airline of the Year for 1997" award. Saab AB painted two new Saab 340 aircraft in special commemorative liveries celebrating both the award and Mesaba's 25th anniversary of scheduled airline service.

On August 31, 2005, Mesaba Airlines was named the winner of the 2005 Operational Excellence Award by AIG Aviation, a U.S. based underwriter of aviation insurance. The award has been presented only four times since its creation in 1998 and recognizes clients that exhibit a strong commitment to building quality safety and loss prevention programs. Mesaba was the unanimous selection out of an entry pool of more than 650 companies.[18]


Over the years, Mesaba grew to operate a fleet of turboprop and turbofan powered airliners from Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport, Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, Memphis International Airport, John F. Kennedy International Airport, Salt Lake City International Airport and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on code sharing flights primarily to small-to-medium-sized cities on behalf of its major airline partners.

Mesaba began operating as US Airways Express on behalf of US Airways in March 2011, replacing Colgan Air service, with seven Saab 340 aircraft to eight destinations served from New York LaGuardia Airport: Charlottesville, VA; Manchester, NH; Ithaca, NY; Syracuse, NY; Providence, RI; and Washington Dulles, as well as Martha's Vineyard, MA and Nantucket, MA with both of these destinations being served on a seasonal basis.

Destinations in 1981[edit]

Mesaba was a small independent commuter air carrier at this time in June 1981 operating Beechcraft 99 turboprop aircraft on just one linear route: Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN - Brainerd, MN - Grand Rapids, MN.[19]

Destinations in 1986[edit]

Mesaba was operating Northwest Airlink code sharing flights in June 1986 for Northwest Airlines (which was operating as Northwest Orient at this time) with 19-passenger Fairchild Swearingen Metroliner ("Metro III" model) and 48-passenger Fokker F27 turboprops serving the following destinations:[20]

Destinations served in 1999 from the Northwest Airlines hub in Minneapolis/St. Paul[edit]

Those destinations noted in bold were served in May 1999 by Mesaba with a Avro RJ85 jet aircraft operating as Northwest Jetlink code sharing flights from the Northwest hub located at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP) with Northwest Airlink code share service from MSP to other destinations being operated by Mesaba with Saab 340 turboprop aircraft at this time:[21]

According to the Official Airline Guide (OAG), by October 1999 Mesaba had extended its Northwest Jetlink Avro RJ85 service from the Northwest hub in Minneapolis/St. Paul to Green Bay, WI, Kalamazoo, MI, La Crosse, WI, Rochester, MN and Saginaw, MI in addition to the above destinations listed in bold.[22]

Destinations served in 1999 from the Northwest Airlines hub in Memphis[edit]

In May 1999, Mesaba was operating all of its Northwest Airlines code sharing flights from the Northwest hub located at the Memphis International Airport (MEM) with Avro RJ85 jet aircraft with these Northwest Jetlink destinations noted in bold:[21]

Another regional air carrier, Express Airlines I, was also operating code sharing flights at this time from Memphis for Northwest utilizing turboprop aircraft for its Northwest Airlink service.[23][dead link]

According to the Official Airline Guide (OAG), by October 1999 Mesaba had extended its Northwest Jetlink Avro RJ85 service from the Northwest hub in Memphis to Grand Rapids, MI and Raleigh/Durham, NC.[24]

Destinations served in 1999 from the Northwest Airlines hub in Detroit[edit]

Those destinations noted in bold were served in May 1999 by Mesaba with Avro RJ85 jet aircraft operating as Northwest Jetlink code sharing flights from the Northwest hub located at the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW) with Northwest Airlink code share service from DTW to other destinations being operated by Mesaba with Saab 340 turboprop aircraft as this time:[21]

According to the Official Airline Guide (OAG), by October 1999 Mesaba had extended its Northwest Jetlink Avro RJ85 service from the Northwest hub in Detroit to Flint, MI, Lexington, KY, Saginaw, MI, South Bend, IN and Traverse City, MI in addition to the destinations listed above in bold.[25]


The Mesaba Airlines fleet consisted of the following aircraft (as of September 7, 2011):[26][dead link]

Aircraft Total Options Passengers Notes
F Y Total
Bombardier CRJ-200 19 0 50 50
Bombardier CRJ-900 41 29 12 64 76


Aircraft Year Retired Notes Replacement
Fokker F27 Scrapped Dash 8-100
Beechcraft Model 99 Metroliner
Fairchild Swearingen Metroliner (Metro III model) 1997 Converted to freighters or operated in the Bahamas Saab 340
de Havilland Canada Dash 8-100 1998 Sold to Piedmont Airlines Saab 340
Saab 340 2011[27] Bombardier CRJ-200
Avro RJ85 2006 Operated as Northwest Jetlink flights on behalf of Northwest Airlines. Aircraft were configured with 16 first class seats and 53 coach seats.[28] Majority transferred to Cityjet (Dublin, Ireland) Bombardier CRJ-900

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Norwood, Tom; Wegg, John (2002). North American Airlines Handbook (3rd ed.). Sandpoint, ID: Airways International. ISBN 0-9653993-8-9. Archived from the original on 2016-11-28.
  2. ^ a b [bare URL]
  3. ^ "Mesaba Airlines - General Office". Archived from the original on April 24, 2009. Retrieved May 19, 2009.
  4. ^ Upham, Warren (1920). Minnesota Geographic Names: This Origin and Historical Significance in Collections of the Minnesota Historical Society. Minnesota Historical Society. pp. 486 and 504.
  5. ^ John D. Nichols and Earl Nyholm. A Concise Dictionary of Minnesota Ojibwe. University of Minnesota Press (University of Minnesota: Minneapolis, 1995) ISBN 0-8166-2427-5
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i "History of Mesaba Holdings, Inc". Funding Universe. Retrieved July 21, 2020.
  7. ^ Cohen, Ben (October 28, 2008). "Lowell Swenson acquired Arctic Enterprises". Star Tribune. Retrieved July 21, 2020.
  8. ^ "Examining Minnesota's Economy After September 11th: Strategies for Workforce and Business Recovery". U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Retrieved July 21, 2020.
  9. ^ Isidore, Chris (September 14, 2005). "No. 4 Northwest Airlines follows No.3 Delta into bankruptcy". CNN Money. Retrieved July 21, 2020.
  10. ^ "Mesaba follows Northwest Airlines into bankruptcy". Minnesota Public Radio. October 13, 2005. Retrieved July 21, 2020.
  11. ^ " - Mesaba Airlines Reaches Tentative Agreement". 2006-10-29. Archived from the original on 2006-10-29. Retrieved 2023-12-06.
  12. ^ "Mesaba flight attendants reach deal". MPR News. 2006-10-30. Retrieved 2023-12-06.
  13. ^ Mesaba Aviation Mechanics Agree To Accept Wage Cuts (Detroit Free Press: November 1, 2006)
  14. ^ "Northwest Airlines Acquires Mesaba Airlines". April 24, 2007. Archived from the original on September 9, 2012.
  15. ^ a b Maxon, Terry (November 24, 2009). "DOT hands out $175,000 in fines for Rochester fiasco". Dallas News. Retrieved July 21, 2020.
  16. ^ Drum, Bruce (July 1, 2010). "Delta agrees to sell Mesaba Airlines to Pinnacle Airlines". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Retrieved July 21, 2020.
  17. ^ [dead link]
  18. ^ Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal: September 1, 2005
  19. ^ "Mesaba Airlines June 12, 1981 Route Map". Retrieved 2023-12-06.
  20. ^ "Northwest Airlines History Center WELCOME - Northwest Airlines History Center". Retrieved 2023-12-06.
  21. ^ a b c "Northwest Airlink May 1999 Route Maps". Archived from the original on July 9, 2021.
  22. ^ Oct. 1, 1999 OAG North America Pocket Flight Guide, Minneapolis/St. Paul flight schedules
  23. ^
  24. ^ Oct. 1, 1999 OAG North America Pocket Flight Guide, Memphis flight schedules
  25. ^ Oct. 1, 1999 OAG North America Pocket Flight Guide, Detroit flight schedules
  26. ^ Mesaba Airlines fleet list at Retrieved 2010-05-16.
  27. ^ "Mesaba Airlines Fleet Details and History". Retrieved 2021-12-09.
  28. ^ OAG Flight Guide Supplement, January–March 2006, Aircraft seating plans, Northwest Airlines ARJ (Avro Regional Jet) seat map

External links[edit]