Air Transport World

Mesa overcomes rocky road to profits. (Mesa Air)

Farmington, N.M.--In a literal sense, Mesa Air is a true "mom-and-pop" commuter, with President Larry Risley and Vice President Janie, its only two officers, dividing the management chorse and 15-year-old Gregory loading baggage after school.

However, this particular mom and pop were attracted to their roles not by the perceived glamour and excitement of aviation but by what they saw as a good business opportunity that could provide a satisfactory living for themselves and their two children. And the results they have achieved in two years of running an airline indicate their judgment was correct.

When the Risleys borrowed the money to purchase the rather skimpy assets of Mesa Air Shuttle in August 1982, the carrier was flying one Piper Cheiffain between Farmington in the northwest corner of New Mexico and the airline hub of Albuquerque 148 miles away, and its goal was to carry 800 passengers a month. Risley, an A&P mechanic whose only airline experience consisted of managing Mesa for its previous owners, did all the maintenance. An unusual tack

By August 1984, Mesa Air (it had dropped the Shuttle from its name) was flying three new leased Beech C99s from an Albuquerque hub to Farmington, Roswell, Hobbs and Lubbock, and its 40+ employes were boarding more than 5,000 passengers each month. And, Risley told ATW, the airline has been profitable ever since he took it over and today is netting about 8% on its revenues (like most privately owned commuters, it does not reveal its finances in detail).

It has done all this by taking a tack unusual for a commuter--deliberately engaging in head-to-head competition with another regional carrier. On all of its routes, Mesa competes directly with one of the nation's most successful regional airlines, Air Midwest (which declined comment on the competitive situation).

And the competition is not merely for passengers. Mesa in mid-September won away from Air Midwest the Essential Air Service designation for Roswell, Hobbs and Carlsbad. Whether Air Midwest will remain in the markets was not known at this writing. …

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