Atlantic Southeast Airlines-ExpressJet merger hits milestone

Atlanta-based Delta Connection carrier Atlantic Southeast Airlines has received the go-ahead from the Federal Aviation Administration to combine its operations with ExpressJet in a merger that has already brought more than 100 additional employees to Atlanta this year.

The combined airline is based in Atlanta near Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and will be the largest regional airline in the world, with more than 400 planes and 2,350 flights a day, according to the company. In addition to the 106 people the airline has added in Atlanta this year, it expects to add more positions as it completes the merger.

The FAA confirmed Friday morning that it approved a single operating certificate for the two airlines, allowing them to operate as a single carrier. Starting Dec. 31, the combined airline will be called ExpressJet, bringing an end to the Atlantic Southeast Airlines name. Atlantic Southeast operates as Delta Connection and United Express, while Houston-based ExpressJet operates as Continental Express and United Express.

The merger of Atlantic Southeast with ExpressJet was first announced in August 2010, when Atlantic Southeast parent SkyWest announced the acquisition of ExpressJet in a deal with a cash value of $133 million.

It's part of a string of consolidation in the airline industry.

SkyWest President Brad Rich said in a written statement that getting the FAA approval "allows us to continue our strategic integration and cost-reduction plans," to position the company well and increase the value of the company for shareholders. The company continues to work on integrating its systems, technology and procedures "to realize the cost savings of being a larger airline," according to the airline.

Employee groups at the two airlines are still working toward combining labor groups. Next month, flight attendants will vote on which union will represent them -- the Association of Flight Attendants from Atlantic Southeast or the International Association of Machinists from ExpressJet. Pilots are negotiating for a combined labor contract and have reached several tentative agreements.