As the 1960s progressed the same pattern of route divestiture that had enabled the creation of the local service airlines in the 1950s began again. Now, however, it was the local service airlines trying to drop routes that they no longer considered financially viable as they gradually took on larger prop and jet equipment and began to transform into regional carriers nipping at the heels of the trunk airlines. This opportunity enabled a range of small pioneering commuter airlines, many of which had already been air-taxi firms, to start operations but the range of aircraft available for them to use was very limited. Gradually the Beech 99 (from 1968) and DHC-6 Twin Otter (from 1967) became the aircraft of choice, but as the 1970s marched onwards something larger was required especially as the CAB allowed commuters to operate aircraft carrying up to 30 passengers. New types like the Embraer 110 Bandeirante entered service but none could match the new Short Brothers 330 for size and comfort.
Deregulation gave the small regional airlines the opportunity they had been looking for. Not only could they benefit from the dropping of service by the majors (no longer hindered by CAB disapproval), develop their own networks freely and bid for EAS routes, but most importantly the development of major hub networks by American and Delta (and later the rest) created the requirement for feed from local destinations.
The environment was perfect for the new regional airlines who would however gradually see their own independence disappear as they were subordinated to the needs of their larger partners. As the 1980s progressed the growing regional fleets took up the colours of the majors they served and were gradually bought out and amalgamated. A newer generation of larger advanced turboprops like the ATR-42, DHC-8, EMB-120 and Saab 340 gradually stole the Short's limelight and pushed the regionals into new territory of mega fleets ready for their first regional jets but in many ways it was the Shorts that were more important, being one of the main types that enabled the commuter airlines to take their opportunity.
The abridged story of several Shorts operators illustrates the general themes of regional operations in the 1980s for US commuters:
Simmons began operations in 1978, using a Piper Navajo, and grew to become one of the largest commuters in the USA by the early 1990s. Its first franchise agreement was with Republic Airlines in April 1985 operating from Detroit, but this soon became Northwest Airlink when Republic was taken over. It also operated for American from Chicago since October 1985. When American purchased Simmons in August 1987 flights for Northwest ceased. The airline built up the largest fleet of Shorts 360s in the world after taking its first aircraft in June 1983.
N386MQ arrived in late 1986 and operated until transferred to American Eagle partner Flagship Airlines, then Executive Airlines in March 1995. She was withdrawn from use in August 1997 and stored. By April 2005 she was owned by M&N Aviation and she was still operating with them out of San Juan in late 2014.
N364MQ was originally G-14-3619 and delivered new to Simmons in late August 1983. In 1994 she was transferred to the Eagle carrier Flagship Airlines but she was sold in October 1995 to Pacific Coastal Airlines as C-GPCG. They operated her until January 2006 when she joined Tiara Air as P4-TIA with whom she still serves as of July 2013.
Simmons itself survived until May 1998 when American Airlines completed the amalgamation of all its Eagle commuter airlines (except San Juan based Executive Airlines) under Simmons AOC and renamed the resulting airline American Eagle Airlines.
I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: