What Happened To US Regional Carrier Atlantic Southeast Airlines?

Atlantic Southeast Airlines was a major regional airline in the US, operating from 1979 to 2011. It operated flights independently for many years, then on behalf of Delta Air Lines, and later on behalf of United Airlines. After being purchased by SkyWest, it was merged into ExpressJet in 2011. So while the brand no longer existed, many of its routes and business lived on for some time.

Starting service in 1979

Atlantic Southeast Airlines was set up in March 1979, and it started service in June that year. Initially, it operated just a single de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter turboprop aircraft. Its initial route served with this aircraft was between the airline’s base at Hartsfield – Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) and Columbus Metropolitan Airport (CSG).


It soon expanded service to several other regional destinations, supported by a new fleet of ten Embraer EMB-110 Bandeirante aircraft, delivered from the end of 1980.

Working with Delta Air Lines from 1984

Atlantic Southeast Airlines started operating flights for Delta Air Lines under the Delta Connection brand in May 1984. This was a win-win solution for both airlines to expand service.

Delta Connection is the regional brand for Delta Air Lines. Several airlines today operate services for Delta under this brand (including Endeavor Air, Republic Airways, and SkyWest Airlines). Atlantic Southeast Airlines was one of the first airlines to operate under the Delta Connection brand.

Atlantic Southeast Airlines began regional jet services in 1995 with the British Aerospace BAe 146. And in 1997, it added the Canadair (later Bombardier) CRJ200 regional jet.

This relationship was Delta continued, and the company was purchased by Delta Air Lines in 1999. ASA was part of Delta for only around six years, but in that time, it started international services (to Toronto) and added the Bombardier CRJ700 to its fleet . Delta Air Lines sold ASA to SkyWest Airlines (another operator of flights under the Delta Connection brand) in September 2005. Expansion continued for ASA, most notably with a west-coast hub added in Los Angles (LAX).

Skywest also operated for Delta Connection. Photo: Getty Images

United Airlines services from 2010

Atlantic Southeast Airlines continued to operate the majority of its flights for Delta Air Lines, but it did add United Express services later.

In 2010 SkyWest announced that it was entering into a merger agreement with ExpressJet Holdings for ASA. ExpressJet was another major regional airline operating services under the Continental Express and United Express brands. At this time, Atlantic Southeast Airlines also began to operate services for United Express. This only involved around 14 of its fleet of over 160 aircraft (all Bombardier CRJ Series aircraft by this time), with the majority of services still being for Delta Connection.

Becoming ExpressJet in 2011

The merger between SkyWest’s ASA and ExpressJet was complete by the end of 2011. Although SkyWest had acquired ExpressJet, the Atlantic Southeast Airlines brand was dropped, and the airline was granted a new FAA operating certificate under the ExpressJet name. This made ExpressJet the largest regional airline globally at the time, operating for Delta Connection, Continental Express, and United Express (and later American Eagle for American Airlines).

ExpressJet boomed for several years with multiple operating contracts, but things started to change in 2018. Amidst rumors of a takeover by United Airlines, Delta Air Lines canceled its contract with ExpressJet. American Airlines did the same with American Eagle-operated flights.

In January 2019, a takeover by ManaAir (with United Airlines a minority 49.9% shareholder) was announced. This came with a new order for 25 Embraer ERJ-175 aircraft and later a transfer of ERJ-145 aircraft from other United Express operators, in a major fleet reassignment.

ExpressJet Embraer ERJ-145. Photo: Getty Images

COVID, unfortunately, disrupted any further expansion hopes. In August 2020, United announced that ExpressJet operation would wind up. The last flight flew at the end of September. The airline attempted a re-launch in 2021, operating charter flights under the aha! brand with a base at Reno, but just four EMB-145 aircraft – a very different entity from ASA and ExpressJet.

Would you like to share any memories or details about Atlantic Southeast Airlines – its history, fleet, routes, or partnerships? Let us know in the comments.

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