Welcome to Flightinfo.com

  • Register now and join the discussion
  • Friendliest aviation Ccmmunity on the web
  • Modern site for PC's, Phones, Tablets - no 3rd party apps required
  • Ask questions, help others, promote aviation
  • Share the passion for aviation
  • Invite everyone to Flightinfo.com and let's have fun

Tiny Regional Jets Fly Toward the Scrap Heap

Welcome to Flightinfo.com

  • Register now and join the discussion
  • Modern secure site, no 3rd party apps required
  • Invite your friends
  • Share the passion of aviation
  • Friendliest aviation community on the web


Well-known member
Jun 25, 2002
Tiny Regional Jets Fly Toward the Scrap Heap


Small regional jets, with their cramped aisles and small overhead space, flew high for more than a decade. No more. The once-prized 50-seat jets are being culled from U.S. fleets as higher fuel and maintenance bills make them too expensive. The Comair unit of Delta Air Lines (DAL), a pioneer in the use of small jets in the 1990s, said on Sept. 1 it will drop three-fourths of its Bombardier 50-seaters. That will leave it with only 44 by 2012; in 2008, it had 144. And in June, AMR's (AMR) American Airlines said it may divest its American Eagle unit and its 214 planes, mostly tiny jets made by Empresa Brasileira de Aeronáutica (ERJ).

By 2015, U.S. carriers will have only about 200 jets with 50 or fewer seats, down from about 1,200 today, predicts Michael Boyd, president of consultant Boyd Group International. More than 80 have already been scrapped in 2010, he says: "These are litters of aluminum kittens. Nobody wants them."

Regional jets fly twice as fast as turboprops and were affordable when oil was about $20 a barrel. The drawback: spreading costs over about a third as many seats as in a Boeing (BA) 737. With oil averaging $77.93 this year through Sept. 2, up 39 percent from 2009, airlines now favor jets from Embraer and Bombardier that carry at least 70 people.

Operating tiny jets "makes sense if you're focused on share, hub preservation, and other really outmoded concepts," says Richard Aboulafia, an analyst at Teal Group. "But if you're focused on profitability, then 50-seats begin to look awful." Piper Jaffray's (PJC) Douglas Runte says a recent auction of used 50-seat jets posted sales of less than $3 million each for planes appraised at up to three times as much.

The bottom line: Airlines embraced small regional jets when oil prices were low. With costlier fuel, demand for jets with fewer than 50 seats has tanked.
Not an RJ Pilot, not even an airline driver... so don't shoot the messenger!

Just thought you guys might want to see this.
Yawn. Discussed to death. Where's the General?
I don't think the Comair guys are "yawning".
TMMT has gotten bored trying to scare everyone on the political side of the board and is now trying to create fear with the regional pilots. Just a one trick pony trying to move on to another group.
But the Comair guys certainly don't need another poster shoving the same article down their throats again.
Sadly, American Eagle sold their souls to get these and they are obsolete before the 13 year contract they signed is up.

Oldest article I could find on FI: 6 years old! Maybe in another 6, Ms. Boyd will finally get it right.

jenny lee said:
Finding the right fit

Smaller jets lift profits, but have airlines overindulged?

09:19 AM CDT on Saturday, June 5, 2004

By ERIC TORBENSON / The Dallas Morning News

A decade ago, the 50-seat regional jet started an industry revolution.

Faster than the noisy turboprop planes they replaced, regional jets allowed airlines to profitably serve markets they couldn't touch before.

Major airlines fly about 800 50-seat regional jets today, or about a third of all their planes. More are coming each month.

New discount carrier Independence Air has staked its identity around a fleet of 87 50-seaters, dubbing them "I-jets."

"They're great aircraft, and they're capable of handling the range of flying for most of the markets we want to serve," said Lisa Bailey, a spokeswoman for the AMR Corp.'s American Eagle unit.

But some analysts and consultants are starting to ask whether domestic carriers have indulged in too much of a good thing.

"It can be a long haul in a small tube," said Stuart Klaskin, an aviation consultant with Klaskin Kushner & Co. in Miami, a self-described "big guy."

Part of the problem is how major carriers have used the 50-seaters.

Fliers in small towns who were accustomed to traveling in turboprops welcomed the sleek-looking jets that replaced them.

But lately, major airlines have substituted 70-seat and 50-seat regional jets for larger planes serving big markets.

Some say their welcome has been worn out.

"They're like the antibiotics of the airline industry," Mr. Klaskin said. "They're good for its economic health, but they've been dangerously overprescribed. And passengers have developed an immunity to them, to some degree."

No resale value?

For the most part, regional jets have been flown by regional affiliate airlines. American Eagle, for example, provides feeder service for Fort Worth-based American Airlines Inc. Its 50-seat jets are Eagle's most profitable planes.

Independence Air, meanwhile, represents the reinvention of Atlantic Coast Airlines, which was unable to renegotiate an existing agreement to fly regional jets for United Airlines Inc. It launches June 16 from Washington Dulles International Airport.

"ACA has the right idea because they know there's no future in flying 50-seaters for United," said Michael Boyd, an aviation consultant in Evergreen, Colo.

Once the darling of fleet planners everywhere, 50-seat regional jets face an uncertain future as assets for airlines, said Mr. Boyd, who thinks major carriers have bought far too many of the planes.

"There's not going to be any aftermarket for 50-seaters in a few years," he predicted. "They're not going to be able to sell them."

In a sign of the glut of 50-seaters, Mr. Boyd said, United had no problem immediately replacing the 87 planes that will now fly the Independence livery with other aircraft from other regional carriers hungry for business.

As with any start-up airline, Independence Air faces steep odds to stay aloft for long, analysts said.

New math

Part of the challenge, analysts say, is that the math behind the regional jet business has changed.

The regional jet, built primarily by Bombardier Inc. of Canada and Embraer of Brazil, gave airlines a new way to serve "thin" markets that didn't have enough people to profitably fill standard jets with 120 or more seats.

What's different is the same issue that bedevils airlines on virtually every front: Travelers aren't willing to pay as much to fly as they did in the mid- to late 1990s, said Bob Mann, an industry consultant.

Airlines make most of their money from business travelers who may pay up to four or five times more on the same flights than vacationers who book further in advance. It's those business fares that carriers crave.

Until recently, airlines have relied on smaller regional jets to boost average fares on a flight.

For example, if a flight has 30 passengers paying higher fares, that would account for 25 percent of the seats on a 120-seat plane, but 60 percent of those on a 50-seater.

The problem is that with far fewer business fliers paying top dollar, it's harder for an airline to fill a regional jet with high-fare passengers.

Some discounters have already stepped back from relying on regional jets. Orlando-based AirTran Airways Corp. quietly ended its regional jet partnerships this year. Officials at America West Airlines have said they have too many regional jets.

At the big network carriers, many travelers are reluctant to shell out a four-figure fare for what can be a cramped flight without a first-class cabin.

Mr. Boyd half-jokingly says flying in a regional jet for three hours is a "recipe for DVT" – deep vein thrombosis, in which blood clots form due to tight conditions. Few trips on regional jets are very long, but the average flight time has been increasing.

Also, without the higher fares, smaller jets can't overcome the higher costs borne from having fewer seats than mainline jets.

The fare meltdown especially hurts the economics of high-cost 50-seaters.

Independence Air faces the daunting prospect of flying at a cost of 16 cents per seat mile, while earning only about 10 cents, analysts say. A seat mile, a standard industry measure, represents one seat flown one mile.

Key market

Independence Air is expected to burn through cash for quite some time. The upstart carrier's salvation may come when the first of its 27 Airbus A319s arrive this fall. Those planes will have lower per-seat costs because they'll have 130 seats instead of 50.

The carrier intends to fly them initially to the West Coast. As more of the Airbus jets arrive, Independence will consider Houston and Dallas/Fort Worth as destinations, said Rick DeLisi, an airline spokesman.

"We definitely expect that Texas and the upper Midwest are possibilities for us," he said.

Although regional jets may have lost some allure with high-dollar fliers, they're still the best solution for serving smaller cities.

Airlines continue to receive new jets every month. Most large hubs wouldn't work without the stream of passengers from regional jets.

Research from Citigroup's Smith Barney unit shows that regional jets will account for nearly three-quarters of the fleets of both Continental Airlines Inc. and Delta Air Lines Inc. by 2005 and 59 percent of United's.

At struggling US Airways Corp., regional jets are seen as the centerpiece of a turnaround effort, as the carrier struggles to fight off low-fare competitors such as Dallas-based Southwest Airlines Co.

Delta depends on regional jets more than any other traditional carrier. It reconfigured nearly all its hub airports, including its 180-flight-per-day hub at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

The small jets have replaced most of Delta's large planes serving D/FW. By offering more flights a day on regional jets, Delta aims to attract high-dollar business travelers.

Delta executives say they're encouraged by the changes at D/FW, but they're not finished tinkering.

Some expect Delta to dump the hub as it rethinks its business plan in an attempt to avoid bankruptcy.

"We've improved our financial performance compared to what it was before, but we still have some work to do at D/FW," said Peggy Estes, a Delta spokeswoman.

American Eagle has been expanding its schedule, mostly using regional jets, by at least 20 percent annually. Its fleet of 158 regional jets continues to grow as AMR tries to catch up to Delta and others in deploying the planes.

American officials concede they trail competitors in using regional jets to boost their hubs, accounting for just 34 percent of AMR's total aircraft fleet this year, according to Smith Barney.

Eagle uses regional jets for other types of routes, including its shuttle service from New York's LaGuardia Airport to Boston and to Washington, D.C. Eagle executives say they like the results.

It remains unclear whether AMR will follow the lead of Continental and Northwest Airlines Inc., both of which have sold their respective regional carriers and banked hundreds of millions from the sales.

"I don't know why they don't spin off Eagle," Mr. Boyd said.

AMR chairman and chief executive Gerard Arpey said in an April interview that the company continues to weigh the merits of a possible spin-off but that it also sees benefits to keeping Eagle under its wing.

Positive attitude

At Independence Air, the carrier is determined to make it with 50-seaters, Mr. DeLisi said.

The airline won't fly any of its small jets more than two hours, and most of its flights will average just over an hour from its Dulles hub.

Independence will emphasize frequent flights on its routes to allow business fliers to get to a city and come back home the same day. The airline is installing brand-new interiors with leather seats.

"We did a lot of research asking customers about the plane, and though some did share that they didn't like it as well as others, we saw some surprisingly positive impressions of the plane in a lot of our markets," Mr. DeLisi said.

"Our feeling is that as long as the interior of the plane is comfortable and the service is excellent, we're going to do well."


Latest resources