United Airlines (UA, Chicago O'Hare) is prepared to sell its 49.9% stake in ExpressJet Airlines (EV, Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson), formerly its regional capacity provider but now a wholly independent regional carrier planning operations under its own aha! brand, Chief Executive Scott Kirby told The Points Guy.

"If anybody wants it, they should give us a call," he said.

United Airlines acquired ExpressJet Airlines in 2018 from SkyWest Airlines (OO, Salt Lake City) through a firm named Mana Air LLC, a 49.9/50.1 partnership with KAir Enterprises. At that time, the regional carrier operated E145s on behalf of United under the United Express brand. ExpressJet suspended all operations in September 2020 after the mainline carrier decided to consolidate all E145 operations at CommutAir (C5, Cleveland Hopkins). However, ExpressJet did not go out of business but rather recertified as an independent scheduled operator. It plans to launch its first regional routes out of Reno/Tahoe on October 24, 2021, flying to underserved second- and third-tier airports in the western US.

United Airlines serves Reno out of five of its hubs (Los Angeles Int'l, San Francisco, CA, Houston Intc'l, Chicago O'Hare, and Denver Int'l), but with its planned schedule and business model, ExpressJet would not be able to meaningfully feed United's flights even if the carriers signed an appropriate agreement. The revamped airline does not plan to return to the capacity provider market and will instead focus on its aha!-branded operations.

According to the ch-aviation PRO airlines module, United Airlines does not own any other regional capacity provider which contrasts with rivals Delta Air Lines and American Airlines, which own Endeavor Air, and Envoy Air, Piedmont Airlines, and PSA Airlines respectively.

Kirby added that the airline is also in the midst of evaluating its strategy for the 50-seat regional market.

"We're still debating what the long-term future of 50 seaters really is. The challenge is, do you want to serve places like Erie, PA, at all, or Cody, WY, or do those places just get cut off of the connectivity to the world?... We're struggling with that, we feel some obligation to keep the communities connected, but the economics ultimately aren't going to work, and pilot shortages - you know, they're getting squeezed," he stressed.

Kirby added that any changes would only happen in the medium- to long-term and not immediately. He underlined that some of the regional markets could eventually sustain larger aircraft but also stressed that 50-seaters are an increasingly unviable type considering slot restrictions at United's hubs.

The ch-aviation fleets advanced module shows that United Express's 50-seat fleet currently comprises 116 CRJ200ERs, sixty-seven CRJ200LRs, nine CRJ550s, forty-three CRJ550ERs, four EMB-145LRs, and seventy-five EMB-145XRs operated by Air Wisconsin, CommutAir, GoJet Airlines, and SkyWest Airlines. Kirby said that in this market, the CRJ-550 holds the most appeal going forward.