America West in Columbus

America West in Columbus

Columbus has an interesting history with America West. Born out of optimism during a rough period in the industry, it became the airline's Midwest/Eastern hub for a decade, only to be closed during another rough period for the industry.

Columbus opened as a small operation, with one gate and 4 cities - Phoenix, Las Vegas, Boston, and Washington National. At the time, there was significant over flight of the region by non-stops from PHX and LAS to the Northeast. During 1993's restructuring, the over flights were curtailed, replaced with flights that stopped in CMH. By reducing over flights, aircraft could be returned more easily, and a smaller fleet operated - as well as providing feed into the nascent hub.

"Ohio" 757 model at Columbus, photographed March 2003. This model remained in the terminal until 2013.

There was only one minor problem with this strategy. By reducing the over flights, it now required two stops to travel from the East Coast to the West Coast - reducing America West's competitive position against other airlines. The goal was to counter this with lower fares; however, other airlines immediately matched America West's fares.

A commuter operation was put in place on December 15, 1993, using Mesa Beech 1900Ds operated by a new subsidiary. Mesa had been operating an existing subsidiary, Skyway Airlines, for Midwest Express out of Milwaukee. Many of these routes were added to the CMH system, leading to some interesting route choices. The Columbus Express operation was restructured in 1994 to a true feeder operation, with Mesa's loss of the Skyway contract to Astral Aviation, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Midwest Express. This Express operation was discontinued on May 31, 1995.

By 1996, America West was operating a true mini-hub at CMH, offering connections from primarily PHX and LAS to the East Coast, with red-eye non-stops from the East Coast to LAS and back. Franke then turned back to long-haul growth, primarily using the A320, and resumed overflights of CMH with non-stop flights from PHX.

For the system, the new long-haul flying worked beautifully, pulling capacity out of direct competition with Southwest, making AWA more competitive with other airlines, and lowering costs while increasing passengers through PHX. This strategy led to significant growth at PHX in the mid to late 1990's. CMH, meanwhile, was left out in the wind.

Columbus Ticket Counter, 3/03

The biggest change America West did in CMH was in 1998, when Mesa CRJs replaced a majority of the mainline flights, with the exception of the long-hauls to PHX and LAS. Over the next few years, RJ flying would replace everything except seasonal Florida service and PHX/LAS/LAX. CMH gained non-stop RJ flights to ORD in 1998 through the AIR-21 act, but otherwise remained stable. At the end of 2000, America West picked up one more TWA gate (B-5) and the TWA Ambassadors Club, which was remodeled into the America West Club. (TWA and America West had an agreement for the club for several years before the acquisition.)

CMH AdCMH Route Map
2001 Timetable ad. Left: Top of ad. Right: CMH route map.

In 2001, Mesa RJs were gradually pulled out, and replaced by a new partner, Chautauqua (RP). The new ERJs were sent on longer missions, including DFW and ATL. Then, 9/11 struck.

ERJ model, in the terminal. (3/03)

9/11 would end up being the death knell for CMH, though nobody knew it at the time. CMH had some strategic value, as it was the first AWA city to resume DCA service in October, well before PHX and LAS would be allowed to resume. However, traffic and yields deteriorated, and did not recover to the same extent as PHX and LAS. ATL and MDW lost CMH service after 9/11, but new service was re-added to MCO.

By 2002, Columbus was losing approximately $25 million per year. This was enough for management, who despite giving it a good try, could not support any more drains on the operation. On February 18, 2003, it was announced Columbus would be downgraded to a field station by June. The aircraft freed up would almost immediately be placed into PHX, with additional frequencies to PIT and CLE, as well as new service to CUN. The ERJs were shifted into Chautauqua's Delta Connection operation, ironically enough on the same routes America West Express flew.

America West Express CMH ERJ Fleet




Deliv Date



N269SK ERJ-145LR 145293 7/31/2000 50 RP, ex-US
N270SK ERJ-145LR 145304 8/28/2000 50 RP, ex-US
N271SK ERJ-145LR 145305 9/5/2000 50 RP, ex-US
N272SK ERJ-145LR 145306 9/26/2000 50 RP, ex-US
N273SK ERJ-145LR 145331 11/1/2000 50 RP, ex-TW (Not spotted 3/16/03)
N274SK ERJ-145LR 145344 12/1/2000 50 RP, ex-TW
N276SK ERJ-145LR 145348 12/15/2000 50 RP, ex-TW
N278SK ERJ-145LR 145370 2/7/2001 50 RP, ex-TW
N290SK ERJ-145LR 145434 7/26/2001 50 RP
N292SK ERJ-145LR 145488 8/29/2001 50 RP
N294SK ERJ-145LR 145497 9/18/2001 50 RP, 500th ERJ markings
N296SK ERJ-145LR 145514 12/20/2001 50 RP

Photos from around the hub

America West Club (ex-TWA) entrance.
Banner hanging next to old gate B-6.
The dual podiums serving 3 gates.

Terminal Maps