On Wednesday, Air Midwest (not to be confused with Midwest Airlines), a wholly owned subsidiary of Mesa Air Group, announced a plan to cease all operations by June 30. Service will be phased out gradually, with groups of cities eliminated together based on their geographical location. The first to go are the airline's East Coast destinations, on May 23.
What makes this news significant is not only Air Midwest's role in the Mesa Air route network, but the fact that several of Air Midwest's routes were part of the Essential Air Service program, a DOT-run initiative designed to assist airlines serving unprofitable routes to underserved locations. This is a big loss for those communities, and a sobering dose of reality, as Air Midwest was unable to sustain service despite government funding.
The bigger issue, of course, is how this closure will reverberate through the Mesa Air Group. On the surface, losing service to a handful of small destinations seems insignificant, but Mesa's name has already been mentioned as a candidate for collapse. Travelers should take note, because the Mesa Air group operates several prominent regional carriers in addition to Mesa Airlines, including go!, Delta Connection, United Express, and US Airways Express.
As an indicator of overall industry health, this news is not to be taken lightly. Large carriers can absorb the astronomical cost of jet fuel and other market fluctuations, but these smaller carriers, which are vital in connecting rural America to the national route map, are extremely vulnerable.