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With regional airlines and their major-airline benefactors fighting over the recruitment of pilots, Mesa's hiring binge will exacerbate the tussle. Mesa's new agreement with United is a game-changer for the airline, which will increase its pilot ranks by nearly 50%.

Regional airline Mesa Airlines, which does business as United Express, US Airways Express, and go! in Hawaii, plans to hire 350 pilots, 300 flight attendants, and 200 support personnel starting in 2014 as it expands its fleet with larger regional jets, including 30 Embraer E-175s owned by United Airlines.

Mesa currently employs 723 pilots so their ranks would increase by nearly 50% over the next two years.

Regional airlines already face a pilot shortage stemming from new FAA regulations that mandate increased pilot training following the 2009 crash of Colgan Air flight 3407, and they also feel the pinch because major airlines such as United are not only bringing back furloughed pilots, but are hiring pilots for the first time in years.

Asked how Mesa plans to attract pilots, spokesperson Brian Gillman says pilots being hired would be able to move up the ladder must faster from first officer (co-pilot) to captain (pilot) because of the expansion.

Over the last five years, consistent with trends among other regional airlines, Mesa has transitioned from 50-seaters to a fleet that’s basically all 64- to 90-seat aircraft, including Bombardier CRJ-700s, CRJ-900s, and now Embraer E-175s.

Gillman says most of the hiring will take place in 2014, starting in the Spring, adding, “We have an opportunity to spiral this up.”

The first revenue flight with United’s E-175s will take place in the Summer of 2014, Gillman says.

First officers’ salaries at Phoenix-based Mesa have been among the lowest in the industry, although contracts show that Mesa’s most senior pilots make $104 per hour, which exceeds the industry average.

Gillman says Mesa will be offering pilot new-hires “a very competitive package.”

As part of the agreement with United, Mesa will add 30 United-owned E175s over a two-year period, and Mesa also extends the term for its current fleet of 20 CRJ-700s to 2019.

“This is truly a great day for Mesa. We will continue to work hard to provide the best possible service to United’s customers,” said Jonathan Ornstein Mesa’s chairman and CEO. “Mesa began operating under the United Express banner in 1992 and we are delighted to have this opportunity to expand our longstanding partnership. Our first codeshare agreement with United transformed our company and I am sure this one will do the same.”

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Tags: mesa airlines, pilots, united airlines, us airways

Photo credit: An American Airlines plane is seen between two US Airways Express planes at the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington County, Virginia, February 10, 2013. Mesa Airlines operates as US Airways Express. Mike Theiler / Reuters

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