Latest long-legged ERJ makes ExpressJet debut

 - May 9, 2008, 5:23 AM

Houston-based ExpressJet became the first airline to operate a scheduled flight with Embraer’s extended-range ERJ-145XR on November 1, when the Continental Airlines affiliate launched nonstop service from Newark (N.J.) International Airport to Oklahoma City and Omaha, Neb., and from Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport to Richmond, Va. The new flights originating from Newark continued a Midwest expansion that began in July with the opening of a Continental Express station in Des Moines, Iowa. The flights between Richmond and Houston restored nonstop service suspended as a result of traffic declines following 9/11.

The worldwide launch customer for the 1,350-nm-range jet, ExpressJet took delivery of its first eight ERJ-145XRs in October. By the end of the year the airline plans to have 18 of the new airplanes on its property, by which time it expects to retire the last of its eight remaining ATR 42s, giving it an all-turbofan-powered fleet composed of 188 ERJ-135s, -145LRs and -145XRs.

The next phase of the ERJ-145XR’s service introduction starts December 12, when ExpressJet plans to introduce the long-range airplanes on new direct routes from Houston to Palm Springs, Calif., and Villahermosa, Mexico, and from Newark to Daytona Beach, Fla. A company spokesman said the airline will retire its ATR 42s, all of which fly out of Houston, on the same day. Future applications for the new Embraer jets will likely include Houston to Charleston, W.Va. According to the spokesperson, the stage lengths of all the new routes prevented their service with the now standard version of Embraer’s 50-seat jet, the ERJ-145LR, which yields an average full-passenger range of 955 nm.

Launched during the Farnborough Air Show in July 2000, the ERJ-145XR gained its FAA certification in late October. The most striking visual difference between it and the standard model–a pair of winglets–combine with more powerful 8,110-lb-thrust Rolls-Royce AE3007A1E turbofans and an auxiliary fuel tank located in the fairing aft of the wings to give the new variant a claimed 29-percent increase in range, 7-percent more takeoff thrust and a 14-percent improvement in climb thrust.

Although Embraer claims the changes give the ERJ-145XR a range of 2,000 nm, ExpressJet’s estimates of roughly 1,350 nm with a full passenger load appear more realistic under typical temperature and altitude conditions. Offering an average range increase of some 450 mi, the ERJ-145XR shows its most striking benefits in the hot-and-high conditions found in such places as Denver and Guadalajara, Mexico, where altitude and heat often limit the standard ERJ-145 to between 30 and 35 passengers on the 1,042-nm route to Houston.

Priced at roughly $1.5 million more than the standard ERJ-145, the XR variant will also prove valuable at ExpressJet’s Newark base, where the field performance of the ERJ-145LR limits operations from Newark’s 6,800-ft, obstacle-limited cross runway to flights of no more than 370 nm. Better equipped in the event of an engine failure during rotation, the ERJ-145XR will allow ExpressJet to use Newark’s Runway 11/29 for flights up to 900 nm, alleviating some of the congestion on the airport’s main runways.

All told, ExpressJet expects to take delivery of 104 ERJ-145XRs through 2005. Its schedule now calls for the delivery of 48 of the airplanes next year, 36 in 2004 and the final two in 2005. It also holds options for another 100. The airline has taken delivery of its entire allotment of thirty 37-seat ERJ-135s and 140 ERJ-145LRs.

Spun off from parent company Continental Airlines in a public stock offering in April, ExpressJet’s stock fluctuated wildly since opening on the New York Stock Exchange at $16. Trading at $12.15 on November 7, the stock price had fallen to as low as $7.15 before rebounding on news of an 80-percent rise in third-quarter earnings.