Manassas-based Colgan Air Inc. is part of an increasing percentage of regional carriers providing service to small cities for major airlines, many of which are struggling financially.
Still, Colgan, a family-owned company, is more of a rarity as an independent regional carrier, one of about a dozen in the country.
The company has partnered with United Airlines to begin serving United Express routes from Washington Dulles International Airport to six small cities Oct. 4. The deal will add 100 jobs, half of which will be in Manassas, to Colgan’s 1,000-employee roster.
Shuttle America currently operates the six flights from Dulles to Charlottesville; Allentown, Pa.; Binghamton, N.Y.; Charleston, W.Va.; State College, Pa.; and White Plains, N.Y.; but Colgan was able to offer a competitive price at a time when the company is under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
The deal will add Colgan’s six Saab 340-B turboprop aircraft to the United Express fleet.
“United continued to look for the highest quality service provider for an economical price,” said United spokesman Dave Dimmer.
Founded as Colgan Airways Corporation in 1965 by Charles J. Colgan Sr., who is now a state senator, the company has for the most part remained independent since its inception. It was owned by the now-defunct Presidential Airlines from 1986 to 1991.
That independence is a rarity, as is the fleet of smaller planes, said Doug Abbey, a partner with Velocity Group, a Washington, D.C.-based aviation consulting firm.
“Colgan’s core business is flying 19- and 34-seaters,” Abbey said. “It’s a very noble business. And very few want to do it.”
Abbey said partnering with financially struggling companies can be risky.
“We’re a very conservative company and through our history, it’s just been slow, steady growth,” said Chuck Colgan Jr., recruiting manager and stockholder at Colgan Air.
Colgan has had similar partnerships, called code-shares, with Continental Airlines and US Airways since the late 1990s.
“For an airline like ours to have three major partners is a huge opportunity,” said Chuck Colgan Jr.
As of Jan. 1, 72 percent of the 664 U.S. airports with scheduled airline service depended exclusively on small airlines to provide them access to the National Air Transportation System, according to Deborah McElroy, spokeswoman for the Washington, D.C.-based Regional Airline Association.
Regional flight agreements between major carriers and regional air carriers like Colgan are crucial to major airlines’ ability to have a presence in small cities where landing large 737 planes is neither feasible nor profitable, McElroy said.
“If they couldn’t cost share, there might not be service somewhere,” she said.
For communities, it means the ability to entice new businesses and retain current ones.
For passengers, it means easier travel between connecting flights: one reservation, one luggage check-in and credit for the frequent flier miles, McElroy said.