Eagle’s latest batch of CRJ700s starts to arrive

 - August 2, 2010, 6:43 AM

American Eagle’s first shipment of new airplanes in some five years began last month as the Dallas-based regional airline took delivery of two new CRJ700s from Bombardier. Scheduled to accept two airplanes each month for about the next year, Eagle as of last month already flew 25 of the Canadian jets, all of which offered a first-class section as of July 2. The first-class sections of American Eagle’s CRJ700s carry nine seats, leaving enough room in the main cabin for 54.  

American Eagle expects to play a vital role in American Airlines’ so-called Cornerstone strategy, under which it has decided to concentrate more resources in what it considers its critical markets–namely, New York, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and Miami. As part of the plan, American will continue to cut point-to-point flying to free its resources for those “critical” hubs.

American’s strategy, which it unveiled last fall, directs Eagle to dedicate virtually all its new CRJ deliveries to New York, at both La Guardia and JFK International Airports. Initially, flights from New York to Atlanta, Charlotte, N.C., and Minneapolis will all carry first-class service, while new CRJ700s–also equipped with nine-seat first-class cabins–serve certain flights between La Guardia and Raleigh/Durham and Toronto. The airline expects to start flying some new CRJ700s out of JFK next February.    

Eagle offers first-class food and beverage service on any CRJ flight that lasts more than two hours. From Chicago O’Hare, customers now enjoy the option of first-class service on flights to Atlanta, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Newark, Houston, Oklahoma City, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, San Antonio and Salt Lake City. From Dallas/Fort Worth International, customers can fly first class to Cleveland, Milwaukee, Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport in Bentonville/Springdale, Ark., and Little Rock.   

American Eagle continues to launch new routes at a “record pace,” including 16 in early April alone, adding new destinations at all its hubs except Los Angeles, according to outgoing president and CEO Peter Bowler. In April, revenue passenger miles rose 10.2 percent compared with the same month a year earlier, while available seat miles rose 9.8 percent. In May, Eagle experienced a 7.2-percent jump in RPMs on a 5.9-percent increase in ASMs. However, none of those figures includes precipitous declines at San Juan-based subsidiary Executive Airlines, where the parent airline decided to draw down capacity and move roughly half of its airplanes to Dallas, while focusing on feeding the Caribbean destinations to a greater extent from Miami and to a lesser degree non-stop from JFK.  

In June, Eagle added new service from Miami to Gainesville, Fla.; from Dallas to Augusta, Ga.; and from Chicago to Manhattan, Kan., Allentown, Pa., and Wilkes Barre/Scranton International Airport in Avoca, Pa. 

Meanwhile, said Bowler, American Eagle received “a favorable” ruling on a series of arbitration cases involving the pilot groups of both the regional and major airline, resulting in the movement of “several hundred” high-time Eagle pilots to the mainline over the next two years. Thirty-five moved to American in June under the terms of a so-called flow-through agreement between the pilot groups, “and that is a good thing because it means our seniority chain is moving,” said Bowler. “It also means we’ll be a more attractive place for new pilots to come hire.” One of the few airlines in the U.S. recruiting pilots, American Eagle expects to hire some 20 pilots a month “for the foreseeable future,” said Bowler. “And the combination of the new pilots coming in at the bottom and some of our senior pilots going to American will improve our cost competitiveness and complement our already highly productive workforce.” 

Bowler, who announced his retirement in May, by late June continued to help transfer leadership of the regional to American vice president of marketing Dan Garton, who accepted the top spot at Eagle after serving in various executive roles with American since 1998. Garton served as Eagle’s CEO once before, for three years starting in 1995. Bowler joined American in 1984 and held a variety of staff and line positions in the sales, marketing, human resources and information technology departments at American before moving to American Eagle in 1998. 

Parent company AMR has also reiterated the possibility that it might divest itself of its regional subsidiary. It first announced the possibility of a sale in 2007, but it suspended its plan the following year due to unfavorable economic and market conditions.