Longtime Atlanta regional airline ExpressJet winds down operations

COVID-19 hits travel jobs

A longtime Atlanta regional airline is winding down operations after losing its last contract to fly amid the coronavirus pandemic.

ExpressJet, formerly known as Atlantic Southeast Airlines or ASA, was a Delta Connection carrier for decades.

But ExpressJet lost its Delta contract and ended its run as a Delta Connection carrier in late 2018. Delta turned to a subsidiary, Endeavor Air, to take over much of the Delta Connection flying that ExpressJet had handled out of Atlanta and other Delta hubs.

The failure of regional airlines indicates that the severe slump in travel due to COVID-19 could worsen the loss of service to small towns served by smaller airlines and cost more jobs.

ExpressJet had 2,492 employees in June, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Most are expected to be furloughed.

“When an airline shutters, it’s like a negative force multiplier,” said Regional Airline Association president Faye Malarkey Black in a written statement when ExpressJet announced the loss of the United contract. “The airlines’ direct employees are dealt a crushing blow which continues to reverberate as small communities lose air service and those communities in turn lose business and even more job losses follow.”

Other regional airlines shuttering after falling victim to the impact of COVID-19 include Compass Airlines and Trans States Airlines.

ExpressJet still had contracts to fly United Express flights for United Airlines and American Eagle flights for American Airlines after losing Delta.

But ExpressJet lost its contract to operate American Eagle flights for American Airlines also in 2018 and was sold to a United Airlines joint venture called ManaAir LLC.

It continued operating United Express flights at bases in Chicago, Cleveland, Houston and Newark from offices in College Park near Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and in Houston.

In February, before COVID-19 grew into a pandemic, ExpressJet struck a contract extension with United to grow its United Express fleet and become the world’s largest operator of Embraer 145 jets.

But after a severe downturn in travel due to the coronavirus, ExpressJet learned in July it was losing its business with United Airlines. United is shifting ExpressJet’s flights to Ohio-based CommutAir.

United issued a statement confirming that its contract with ExpressJet will end by Oct. 1, and said it does not expect the transition to affect its flight schedule. That’s also when federal rescue funding for airlines is set to expire, triggering potential job losses in the aviation industry.

A timeline of ExpressJet’s history, from its beginnings as Atlantic Southeast Airlines through the growth of ExpressJet:


Atlantic Southeast Airlines acquires its first aircraft, a DeHavilland Twin Otter; opens a maintenance base in Columbus, Ga., and makes its first flight.


Atlantic Southeast makes its initial public stock offering.


Atlantic Southeast acquires the assets of Southeastern Airways.


Atlantic Southeast becomes the first Delta Connection carrier.


Bar Harbor, Rocky Mountain Airways and Britt Airways consolidate operations to form Continental Express as a single corporate entity operating under the Britt Airways certificate; the airline that would become ExpressJet is formed.


Atlantic Southeast receives its first jet.


Delta acquires Atlantic Southeast Airlines.


Delta reaches an agreement to sell Atlantic Southeast to SkyWest, Inc.


ExpressJet launches branded operations to 24 cities and begins operations as Delta Connection out of Los Angeles.


Atlantic Southeast opens an Atlanta hangar, “A-Tech Center,” to perform scheduled overnight maintenance.


ExpressJet begins flying as United Express.


Atlantic Southeast acquires ExpressJet Holdings, Inc., parent company of ExpressJet Airlines, and announces plans to merge the two airlines.


Atlantic Southeast and ExpressJet achieve single operating certificate status from the FAA and form the new ExpressJet.


ExpressJet announces a new contract with American Airlines to fly as American Eagle beginning in 2013.


ExpressJet and Delta announce plans to end their contract in late 2018.


ExpressJet stops flying for Delta, ending its run as a Connection carrier.

The lease for ExpressJet’s hangar at Hartsfield-Jackson International is handed over to Delta.


ExpressJet owner SkyWest finalizes the sale of ExpressJet to United Airlines joint venture ManaAir LLC.

ExpressJet stops flying for American Eagle.


United Airlines announces plans to shift flying by ExpressJet to another United Express carrier, CommutAir.

With the loss of its last airline contract, ExpressJet winds down operations.

Source: ExpressJet, AJC research