Much of the recent reporting related to crossover narrowbody jets has centered on two major stories—Boeing’s complaint about the sale of Bombardier C Series aircraft to Delta Air Lines, and the first stage of the takeover of the C Series program by Airbus. Each of these touches on the effect that the crossover jets have on the bottom end of the mainline narrowbody market, the former with regard to the effect of the Delta deal on the Boeing 737 MAX-7 and the latter concerning the future of the Airbus A319neo.

At the other end of the crossover jet market, however, there is growing momentum on the effect that these new jets, with quieter, more efficient engines, are set to have on the turboprop market. There has always been a flight distance where a jet becomes more efficient than a turboprop on a route. However, crossover jets are now pushing that point of intersection to a lower figure and airlines are actually switching to crossover jets to serve routes that were once considered purely the domain of turboprops.

Embraer Commercial Aviation’s market intelligence team member, Nelson Henrique da Silva, Jr., points out that according to Innovata, 45% of all flights by 70-seat turboprops in 2017 were longer than 200 nm. “Given that current-generation turboprops are less efficient costwise compared to jets beyond this mark, we believe a significant share of this flying could be switched to the crossover narrowbody jet,” he says.

Flybe aimed to do this when it planned to replace its Bombardier Q400s with 35 firm orders and 105 options for Embraer 175s in 2010. The economics of the first-generation E-Jet did not quite work in Flybe’s model, though. Ultimately, the options were never taken and only a portion of the firm orders were delivered. However, Silva believes that the E2 family has a greater potential to produce that shift.

Wideroe of Norway, which has operated propeller-driven aircraft since its inception in 1934, is not only about to take its first jets this April, it will be the launch operator of the E190-E2. Most important, although the new E-Jets will enable new routes, they will also be replacing turboprops in parts of the airline’s network. “Out of the three E190-E2 jets we put into traffic, about 50% of the capacity will be on routes previously operated by the Q400,” confirms the airline’s director for regional network, Espen Bakke-Aas Steiro.

Convincing the carrier that it could switch some turboprop routes to jets was a challenge for any aircraft OEM, as deputy chief operating officer Andreas Aks notes. “With more than 60 years of successful turboprop experience, there is no doubt, we needed strong arguments to make a move into the jet segment,” he says. “The E2 family fits perfectly into Wideroe’s market segment.”

His colleague, Werner Skaue, who is head of aircraft acquisitions, adds that “the range, fuel efficiency and ecofriendliness of the E-Jets E2 family were all important aspects in the decision process.” 

With some of its destinations north of the Arctic Circle subject to severe weather conditions coupled with short runways, the complete Wideroe network is unlikely to switch from turboprops. The opposite is envisaged by AirBaltic, which is planning to replace all 12 Q400s in its fleet with C Series aircraft.

Martin Gauss, president and CEO of AirBaltic, remains proud that the airline was the first in the world to operate the CS300. So far, seven of its 20 CS300 orders have been delivered; all 20 are scheduled to be in the fleet by the end of 2019.

“The aircraft has performed beyond our expectations, delivering better overall performance, fuel efficiency and convenience for both staff and the passengers,” Gauss says. “The fuel economy [improvement] of the CS300 has reached 21% [over the 737s it is replacing].”

This experience has convinced the Latvian airline to move toward a complete C Series fleet, and it plans to order at least 14 more of the family. “Currently, both sides are continuing negotiations on the deal,” Gauss confirms. “The new order would gradually roll over the entire Q400 NextGen network to the C Series over the upcoming years, with the process beginning late this year.

“The decision as to whether the airline will operate solely with CS300s or with a CS300/CS100 mix is still under evaluation. Eventually though, AirBaltic plans to have 34 C Series aircraft on its fleet,” the CEO adds.

Gauss also emphasizes that the carrier does not foresee the discontinuation of any routes as a consequence of its fleet modernization process. Therefore, in going to an all-jet fleet, none of the routes operated by the Q400s will be dropped. Moreover, AirBaltic “plans to keep the network operated by its own fleet in the future,” meaning that none of the turboprop routes are planned to be operated by a partner on a wet lease basis.

It would be no surprise to see more fleet reorganizations utilizing the flexibility of these types—in a manner similar to both airlines mentioned—where operational limitations do not restrict their operation.