The Regional Jet
The concept of the “regional aircraft” was bom after World War II to describe the kind of airplanes used by feeder airlines or local service airlines authorized by the CAB to supplement the mainstay air carrier fleet. These airplanes were thus described to differentiate them from the long-haul aircraft flown by trunk carriers. At first these aircraft were older aircraft previously flown by the trunk lines, like the DC-3; Convair 240, 340, and 440; and the first commercial turboprop, the Vickers Viscount.
During the late 1950s and early 1960s, a new kind of turboprop was conceived to service the short-haul and feeder market. These were airplanes like the high-winged, 28-seat Fokker F27, delivered in 1958, and larger iterations of the same basic design. The F27 and its successor types would go on to become the most successful turboprop of all time. In 1963, the low-winged Avro 748 turboprop took to the skies, carrying over 20 passengers.
Turboprops worked well in this market, as their operating characteristics allowed them to service smaller airports, and their fuel economy was much better than turbojets. After deregulation, and during the 1980s, other manufacturers entered the 30- to 40-seat commuter market, like De Havilland with the Dash 8, also a high – wing turboprop. While these turboprops were well liked by passengers because of their relative roominess, they were slow compared to jets.
The regional jet (RJ) was introduced into the aviation community in 1992 by the Canadian aircraft manufacturer, Bombardier, with its 50-seat CRJ100 (Canadair Regional Jet), in part fashioned on its business jet, the Challenger 604. In 1998, the company announced a stretched version holding 64 to 70 seats, designated the CRJ700, Series 701, and the 75-seat CRJ700, Series 705. A 90-seat version, CRJ900, joined the fleet in 2001. Canadair had some 55 percent of the regional jet market in 2002.
The Brazilian aircraft manufacturer, Embraer (Empresa Brasileira de Aeronautica, South America) entered the field in 1996 with the ERJ145, with 50 seats. The 35-seat ERJ135 was introduced into service in June 1999 to begin replacing the Brasilia, Embraer’s turboprop workhorse. In 1999, Embraer launched a new family of twin-engine passenger aircraft consisting of the EMB170, 175, 190, and 195 jets with seating in the 70 to 110 range. The first of this new family, the 170, flew on February 19, 2002. Embraer claimed about 40 percent of the regional jet market in 2002.
The Embraer 190 received FA A certification in September 2005. JetBlue Airways took the first delivery of this 106-seat RJ and ordered 100 more. The EMB190 is a state-of-the-art airplane, which relies on digital modeling and virtual reality concepts in its design. This airplane has an all-digital cockpit and is equipped with fly-by-wire flight controls except for ailerons. Winglets at the wing tips are standard. The fuselage design features the “double bubble” idea, instead of the traditional circular cross section, which provides the look and feel of a larger cabin. There are no “middle” seats in its 2 by 2 seating configuration.
The Sukhoi Superjet 100 is a 75- to 95-seat RJ, developed by the Russian aerospace firm Sukhoi in collaboration with Ilyushin and Boeing and with subsidy from the Russian government. Its first flight occurred in May 2008 and on February 3, 2012 the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) issued a type certificate for the airplane. The first aircraft was delivered to Amavia, an Armenian airline, and eight others have been delivered to the Russian company Aeroflot. Although orders and options are pending with other airlines and leasing companies, no other deliveries have been made. On May 9, 2012, a Superjet 100 on a demonstration flight out of Jakarta, Indonesia crashed into the side of a mountain, killing all 45 passengers aboard.
The Chinese are in the developmental stage of an RJ called the ARJ 21, with 80 seats for the first phase production and 100 seats for its next phase. Deployment of this aircraft was originally announced for 2008, but delays of various kinds have now pushed delivery to at least 2013.
There have been few other entrants into the RJ production market. Fairchild Dornier, a subsidiary of the U. S.-German partnership, Fairchild Aerospace Corporation, marketed the 329Jet. Production stopped with Fairchild’s financial reverses in the 1990s. The only other manufacturer of regional jets was Aero International, a consortium composed of Aerospatiale, Ale – nia, and British Aerospace. The BAE 146 series became the Avro RJ series (RJ 70/85/100) and 160 of these were produced before BAE Systems announced their discontinuation in the last quarter of 2001.
The history of the regional jet is not quite ready to be written in full, but there are signs that this concept has just about run its course. During the 1990s, RJs began to replace the turboprops used by commuter airlines. As airlines reconfigured and modified their hub and spoke concepts to utilize RJs, these small jets became commonplace and relatively popular in that service. The regional jets are faster, the engines are more reliable, and engine maintenance costs are lower. But compared to turboprops, the original small RJs were much more expensive to operate on a per seat basis. They were also more cramped than the larger turboprops, had less carry-on storage space, had lavatory issues, and minimal flight attendant service.
As seen above, the trend in RJ size has consistently been toward larger and larger aircraft. As the new RJ designs have increased their seating capacity, the line between a medium-sized jet and a so-called RJ has been blurred. The Airbus 319, for instance, is normally configured for 124 seats, not much larger than the latest RJs. In 2005, a JetBlue spokesman refused to categorize the EMB190 as an RJ, saying that the aircraft was designed to fill the gap left by the DC-9. Many of these airplanes are being used by JetBlue to overfly hubs on point-to-point service (Orlando-MCO to Buffalo-BUF, for example).
The original RJ concept that emerged during the 1990s of producing jets to replace similarsized turboprops is being phased out. Bombardier, for example, stopped production of its 50-seater in January 2006 and there is only limited production of the ERJ145 under license in China.
Because experience has shown that operating costs of RJs can make sense only on longer routes (400 miles seems to be the minimum), and as per seat operating costs, particularly fuel, have caused so-called “regional jets” to become larger, a market is appearing for a new era of turboprop aircraft to fill that niche. Most short-haul routes are less than 350 miles. Rising fuel prices have only reinforced this idea. Turboprops use about 30 percent less fuel than RJs.
The United States jet fleet is composed of four classes of aircraft: large, twin-aisle, singleaisle, and regional jet. In 1990, RJs accounted for 13 percent of this total, and by 2010 the RJ percentage had risen to only 15 percent. By reference to the chart in Figure 30-5, you will see that Boeing’s prediction is that RJs in 2030 will have shrunk to only 5 percent of the jet fleet while the total number of jet aircraft will have doubled.
There were only two companies producing turboprops in the 40-seat-plus capacity range as of 2007: Bombardier and ATR. The economic factors discussed above have caused increased orders for these companies’ turboprop aircraft. ATR as of July 2012 planned to boost production by 60 percent, to a rate of more than seven aircraft per month by 2014.
The old De Havilland Dash 8 production unit, which delivered the first Dash 8 in 1984, was sold first to Boeing and then to Bombardier in 1992. Bombardier turboprops are the Q100, first delivered in 1984 (33-37 seats); the Q200, first delivered in 1989 (33-37 seats); the Q300, a stretched version of the 100 (48-50 seats); and the Q400, first delivered in 2000 (68-78 seats). These airplanes have been fitted with a computer controlled noise and vibration suppression system since 1996 (the “Q” denotes “Quiet”), and produce a cabin decibel level equivalent to the CRJ regional jet. The Q400 has an impressive maximum cruise speed of 360 knots.
The European consortium ATR is a joint venture between EADS and Alenia Aeronautica. It produces the ATR 42-500 (48-50 seats) with a maximum cruise speed of 300 knots, and the ATR 72-500 (68-74 seats) with a maximum cruise speed of 276 knots.
Opening up smaller airports in point-to – point service by the use of RJs could also bring access to airline travel closer to home for the average traveler. Ninety percent of the country’s population lives within 30 miles of an airport, yet only 64 airports (1 percent of all airports) serve 80 percent of passengers enplaned in the United States.7