Air Transport World

Chautauqua's roller coaster ride: the regional thrives on challenges, remains flexible.

Here's how the story begins: Bryan Bedford becomes CEO of Chautauqua Airlines in the summer of 1999 after a successful career at Mesaba Aviation. Within weeks of his arrival, US Airways sends him a letter terminating the codeshare agreement under which Chautauqua had provided feed to the Major for more than a quarter-century owing to dissatisfaction with the Regional's operating performance. It wasn't quite the welcome Bedford expected. "We were immediately hit by the reliability issue," he recalls to ATW.

At the time, US Airways was Chautauqua's only codeshare partner and loss of the US designator would have been devastating. Fortunately, the new CEO was able to wrangle a second chance, possibly owing to a reputation for straight talk and problem-solving earned during his time at Mesaba. "We met very quickly with US Airways to tell them about our operational plan. Once we got through the first six months, we could catch our breath," he says.

Of course catching your breath is a luxury in the airline industry and Bedford's tenure at Chautauqua has been a roller coaster ride. Among the lows: It was almost forced into bankruptcy at the end of 1999, a year in which it lost nearly $9 million. Three years later, plans for an IPO of common stock by parent Republic Airways Holdings had to be withdrawn when the equity markets dried up. Also in 2002 US Airways filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Then earlier this year Chautauqua lost out on the opportunity to add a new Major partner primarily owing to unresolved labor issues at the smaller airline.

By and large, however, it has been a pretty good trip. Traffic growth has been nothing less than spectacular and revenues at the privately owned carrier have increased at a compound annual rate of 43% since 1999 and are forecast to reach $426.5 million for 2003. After losing money in his first year, Bedford has presided over steadily rising profits, culminating in a $17 million net in 2002. …

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