MIAMI — A Delta Air Lines’ Delta Connection flight that departed from Dallas Love Field on October 13 was the last Bombardier CRJ200 flight out of that airport. The carrier has since upgauged its Love Field flights to a combination of two-class Boeing 717s and CRJ-900s.
I was there at the beginning of the 50-seat jet craze, and it seems sad to see how this aircraft, squeezed by high fuel prices and the global recession, has fallen so far so quickly. I began my aviation career in 1992, writing for a now-defunct publication called Commercial Aviation News. In 1993, I became the editor of a weekly newsletter called Commuter/Regional Airline News, published by the company that is now Access Intelligence, which gave me a front-row seat to the 50-sear RJ revolution.
Lufthansa CityLine and Cincinnati, Ohio-based Comair were the launch customers of the CRJ, which launched in 1992. Lufthansa CityLine ordered 35 CRJ100s and 10 CRJ200s, while Cincinnati, Ohio-based Comair ordered 110 CRJ100s. For the ERJ-145, the launch customers were Continental Express, with 25 and American Eagle, with 50.
Between 1994 and 2003, operators from around the world were in a frenzy to buy 50-seat regional jets as airlines moved away from noisier turboprops as a way to fly thinner routes and offer a better passenger experience. But then fuel prices began to skyrocket in 2004, making 50-seat regional jets too expensive to operate profitably. And it didn’t help that manufacturers ATR and Bombardier came out with modern and more fuel-efficient versions of the ATR-42 and -72 and the Q400 turboprops, respectively.
CRJ, ERJ Prospects
Twice a year, Herndon, Virginia-based aircraft valuation consultancy Aviation Specialists Group (ASG) releases The Guide, a comprehensive book that covers nearly six dozen single-aisle, twin-aisle and regional jetliners manufactured by Airbus, Boeing, Bombardier, British Aerospace, Embraer, Fairchild Dornier, Fokker and McDonnell Douglas.
Fred Klein, president and a founder of ASG and an International Society of Transport Aircraft Trading certified aircraft appraiser, writes The Guide. The latest version, released in September, outlined a grim picture on the future of the CRJ200 and the ERJ-145.
“Demand for new 50-seat regional jetliners dried up and as of mid-2014 there were no outstanding orders. The fleet continues to be substantial with approximately 1,600 aircraft in service (although about 20 percent of the fleet was parked in mid-2014), about 70 percent of them in North America, but the operator base is fairly thin and there is substantial fleet concentration as the table above indicates,” according to The Guide.
The slide was exacerbated by the global recession that started in September 2008 that accelerated airlines parking 50-seat jets at a rapid clip. “As of August 2014, about one-fifth of the fleet, including 225 CRJs, was in storage,” wrote Klein. “Public availability of used CRJs has been fairly flat for some time.”
The CRJ fleet is concentrated with the five largest operators – SkyWest, Endeavor Air, ExpressJet Airlines, Air Wisconsin and PSA. The top operators of the ERJ-145 fleet are ExpressJet, Envoy, Chautauqua, Aerovision Aircraft Services and Trans States.
Klein believes that future opportunities for RJs will be limited and, in the absence of economically priced jet fuel, will be concentrated in two areas: the broadening of the market to new operators in new geographic areas and the development of alternate uses.
“Bombardier and others have had some success in moving aircraft into new geographic areas including Europe and Asia. In addition, some aircraft have found new uses as corporate airplanes, package freighters and special use aircraft,” he said. “Continuing high jet fuel prices, changes in airlines’ scope clauses and the general economic downturn which
started in 2008 have had negative impacts on the 50-seat RJ market. The number of parked airplanes has been climbing since 2008 and as of April 2014 stood at almost 300 aircraft. Ninety-three of them – a substantial 14 percent of the fleet – were ERJ-145s.”