Regional Jets (RJ)
Regional jets (RJ) carry fewer passengers than mainline jets but generally travel at similar speeds, cruise at similar altitudes, and require runways of about the same length as mainline jets. The most common RJ models in service today are 50-passenger aircraft-the Bombardier CRJ100 and CRJ200 and the Embraer ERJ-145. Most RJs have a maximum flight range between 900 and 1,700 nautical miles. Fokker, BAe and Fairchild Dornier have all exited this sector due to the intense competition and low profits. Boeing had discussed development of a new 55 to 95-seat Russian Regional Jet (RRJ) with program leader Sukhoi and its partner Ilyushin, and Airbus parent EADS had looked at a 70 to 90-seat version of the RSK MiG/Tupolev Tu-334, but nothing came of either of these partnerships as the Russian companies moved ahead on their own.
The commuter airline industry experienced a revolution in the late 1990s with the advent of the modern regional jet (RJ). After a slow-paced introduction by a lone U.S. carrier in 1993, the regional jet frenzy literally took off. By the late 1990s in the United States, 11 airlines operated, or had orders for, a variety of RJs, with over 100 delivered and an additional 220 firm orders outstanding. In addition, these carriers held 392 options. As of October 2000, major U.S. passenger airlines and their regional affiliates had deployed almost 500 RJs. This represents a significant increase in RJ aircraft since 1997, when only 89 RJs were in service. Many aviation experts viewed U.S. airlines' growing use of small "regional jets" as a revolutionary development that is significantly changing the aviation marketplace.
Production of regional jets, which had expanded greatly, was expected to increase further from approximately 120 to 180 jets per year. As the U.S. aviation industry rebounded from its unprofitable period earlier in the 1990s to new levels of operational efficiency and record passengerload factors, it was not surprising that U.S. carriers were leading the worldwide growth in regional jet orders and total deliveries of regional aircraft. According to Boeing, market demand for regional jets in the 100-seat range, such as Boeing's 717 model, was expected to reach 2,500 over 20 years.
Regional jets, and certainly jets with the capacity of regional jets, are not a new phenomenon in the United States. Aircraft such as the McDonnell Douglas DC-9, the Fokker F-28 and the British Aerospace BAC 1-11 all played a large role in transforming the short-to-medium-haul U.S. aviation marketplace, just as the RJ is impacting today's regional market. Because regional jets (typically seating between 32 and 70 passengers) tend to have lower operating costs than larger "mainline" jets (e.g., the Boeing 737, which may seat 110 passengers or more), expectations rose that air carriers would provide regional jet service to smaller communities that could not profitably support mainline service.
There is no uniformly accepted definition of a regional jet either in the industry or in federal laws and regulations. For example, the Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century, P.L. 106-181, variously defines a regional jet as having a maximum seating capacity of "not less than 30 nor more than 75" (sec. 210) or "less than 71" (sec. 231). The FAA defines the regional airline industry as operators of aircraft with fewer than 60 seats, plus larger turboprops such as the ATR-72. Within the industry, "regional jet" is sometimes used to describe larger aircraft, such as the Fokker F-100 (107 seats) and Boeing 717 (106 seats), and older-technology aircraft, such as the Fokker F-28 (69 seats) and BAe 146-100 (70-82 seats).
The term "regional jets" has evolved greatly and is no longer readily defined. By 2006 one industry observer stated: "Regional Jets: Dead. Gone. And the Embraer 170/190 are not "regional jets." Fact: the size and mission applications of these aircraft are right in line with DC9-10/30s and 737-200s, and the 195s have as many seats as the first Boeing 707s. So much for "regional" - a term that most of the analysts using it couldn't define on a bet."
The modern fleet of new generation regional jets began as 50-seat aircraft. Due to their success, new manufacturers with new and redesigned jets have expanded the capacity spectrum of RJs from as few as 32 seats to more than 100 seats. In reality, today's regional airline industry is defined less by aircraft size than by the real mission the carrier serves: that is, supporting larger, hub-based airlines. Since the introduction of the modern regional jet, commuter carriers have strengthened their ability to support their larger, hub-based partners by feeding more traffic into the mainline carrier's hub.
Because jets are generally faster, quieter, smoother, and perceived to be safer than turboprop aircraft, the public tends to prefer travel by jet. Since Comair, a Delta partner, introduced the RJ into the domestic commercial aviation market in 1993, passengers have demonstrated a clear preference for jets, rather than turboprops, in short to medium-haul markets. This preference grew especially strong in late 1994 and early 1995 as a consequence of the public scare caused by several high-profile turboprop accidents. The turboprop avoidance factor could increase traffic on some routes by as much as 20% simply by replacing a turboprop aircraft with a regional jet.
In the United States, most RJs are operated by regional affiliates of major airlines rather than by the major airlines themselves. The relationship between the major carrier and the regional carrier can take several forms. Some relationships are contractual; for example, United Airlines (United) contracts with Atlantic Coast Airlines to fly passengers to and from United's hub at Washington Dulles International Airport. By contrast, other carriers own all or some of their regional affiliates. For example, American Airlines (American) and Continental Airlines (Continental) own many of the carriers that operate for their regional affiliates, American Eagle and Continental Express. Likewise, Delta Air Lines (Delta) purchased two of its regional affiliates, Comair and Atlantic Southeast Airlines, in 1999.
Much of the service to existing markets supplemented or replaced mainline jet service that the carriers provided in these markets. The airlines chose to establish new service at cities that either were beyond the practical operating range of turboprop aircraft or were perhaps too small to be profitably served by mainline jets. However, the airlines have ordered hundreds more aircraft, many of which are smaller or larger than the predominantly 50-seat RJs initially in service.
Adding RJ operations to existing markets gave RJ carriers opportunities to change their levels of service in various ways. For instance, a carrier could upgrade its service by replacing or supplementing its existing turboprop service with RJs, because jet service is considered to be of higher quality than turboprop service. In other markets, adding RJs allowed carriers to "right size" their existing mainline jet service. In other words, the air carrier replaced its existing mainline jet service (which might have been carrying relatively few passengers) with RJs, whose seating capacity better matched the existing passenger traffic.
Current "small" commercial airplanes such as the Boeing 717, the Airbus A320 family, and regional jets in the less-than-100-seat class designed by Bombardier, Embraer and Fairchild Dornier, all feature a passenger cabin with a single-aisle. A single-aisle configuration used in current airplanes in these smaller classes minimizes drag, weight, fuel bum, and economic penalties. However, the single-aisle fails to provide spacious cabins, desirable ambiance and interior architecture, and easy mobility in flight for both passengers and cabin crew. As a result, the passenger appeal of single-aisle aircraft is significantly less than that of larger twin-aisle aircraft. By 2008 Regional Jets accounted for 17 percent of the worldwide fleet, but Boeing forecast that this will reduce to 7 percent by 2027. Airline requirements for economic and environmental efficiency are pushing toward larger aircraft, and congestion at major airports is driving demand away from the smallest airplanes. Higher fuel costs, environmental concern, and congestion at key hub airports will present a strong case for moving from regional jets to more efficient single-aisle types. The overall requirement for smaller regional jets is significantly lower than was expected in a lower fuel-price environment.
In 2008 Boeing projected a world-wide total market from 2007 through 2027 valuted at $3,200 billion for a total of 29,400 aircraft, of which nearly ten percent [2,510] would be regional jets, which would account for only $80 billion in revenue [2.5% of the total].
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