Flight Friday: The Rise In Regional Jets
This week’s Flight Friday has a regional jet (sub 100 seats) focus.
Immediately following the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak, where international travel was, at best limited, the regional sector rebounded the quickest, due in part to the fact that most of the regional jets were based in North America.
The 2021 northern hemisphere summer timetable was a particular “high” point in the post-recovery for most regional jets. When indexed to the equivalent month in 2019, the smaller, 50-seat regional jets had returned to almost two-thirds of 2019 levels.
However, with U.S. legacy carrier models shifting, leading to a move away from some of their pre-pandemic regional routes, compounded with pilot shortages, there’s been a steady decline in the smaller Bombardier CRJ and Embraer ERJ145 utilization.
The CRJ was impacted more, but with the smaller CRJ predominantly built over a relatively short time frame in the late 1990s and early 2000s, these aircraft are all reaching the end of their lives over a similar 10-year period, which began a few years ago. Lately, the 50-seat CRJ utilization is around a third of equivalent 2019 levels, due mainly to the reduction in the number of aircraft in the passenger fleet.
The ERJ145, on the other hand, came to the market a little later, with the bulk of production occurring during the 2000s. Therefore, they will be in the active fleet for longer and have recently found new secondary markets with African operators, ensuring that their declining utilization is less impacted compared to the 50-seat CRJ, and sits at around 45% of equivalent 2019 utilization.
The slightly larger CRJ700/900s have fared much better than their older, smaller sister. The larger CRJ900 is faring well, having remained around the 80% level since July 2021. The CRJ700 has also found some traction, possibly helped in part due to the “CRJ550”, a 50-seat, three-class version operated by GoJet for United Express. The CRJ700s are still only at two-thirds equivalent 2019 utilization, and with some of these aircraft coming out of the fleet, utilization will not return to 2019 levels.
The runaway leader in the regional jet market is the E170/175, mainly the E175. With the E175 being the only scope clause-compliant aircraft still in production, this aircraft remains the regional jet market leader. Utilization has remained at, or above, equivalent 2019 levels for all of 2023. With a shift in U.S. domestic travel due to the increase in LCCs and ULCCs, the regional market is changing. The need for some of the regional jets has reduced, with operators operating a reduced service, but with larger aircraft. While Embraer is still taking several small orders to keep the E175 line open, the regional jet market is one that, for the moment, is in decline.