As more signs of air transport recovery rise out of a global economy still hampered by geopolitical unrest, regional airlines continue to parlay their cost and flexibility advantages into steady gains in traffic and profits, even while their mainline counterparts struggle to reverse the near disastrous effects of 9/11, the invasion of Iraq and the outbreak of SARS in the Far East.
Regional jet salesmen must have cringed at the recent negative press surrounding passenger complaints about the lack of room in RJ cabins. What with all the good news about profits and traffic growth, the traveling public’s recognition that comfort must often take a back seat to seat-mile costs tossed a sour note into the industry’s chorus of praise for the anointed saviors of small- and medium-sized communities.
ERA named German operator Eurowings regional airline of the year at last month’s general assembly, 12 months after the German regional airline placed second in the competition. Eurowings attributes its success to its fleet mix and route network; an appropriate alliance policy with German flag carrier Lufthansa, which has an option to increase its 25-percent stake in the regional to 49 percent; and an attractive “customer product.”
An extended period of order taking for the world’s makers of regional airliners showed little sign of relenting last month, as Canada’s Bombardier grabbed at least two more major orders for CRJ regional jets while Brazil’s Embraer and the Franco-Italian ATR partnership counted the proceeds from a busy Paris Air Show.
Fairchild Dornier Aero Industries has filed for bankruptcy protection in a German district court, virtually ensuring the end of the latest attempt to resuscitate the long-foundering 728 regional jet. The company’s primary shareholder, Chinese investment firm D’Long, has cut off all funding for the enterprise after subsidiary D’Long Europe failed to attract any serious interest from outside investors.
The cyclical nature of the airline business showed its inevitability again at this year’s Regional Airline Association convention, held May 21 to 24 in Memphis, Tenn. More than 1,500 visitors passed through the turnstiles at the Memphis Convention Center–a record number for an RAA convention.
Embraer is here at Le Bourget exhibiting a 170/175 regional airliner, its super-midsize Legacy 600 executive jet and scale models of its new four-seat Phenom 100 very light jet and nine-passenger Phenom 300 light jet. Production rates and deliveries of its regional jets and Legacy (the 100th twinjet was delivered in March) are picking up following difficulties with suppliers, and activity continues in China.
Having passed responsibility for an engine for the planned Bombardier C Series 110- to 149-seat jetliner to its U.S. parent, Pratt & Whitney Canada (P&WC) says time devoted to the exercise has not been wasted. Rather, it is contributing to work on a 10,000- to 14,000-pound-thrust design–dubbed X10–aimed at a future generation of large business and corporate jets.
Bombardier Aerospace is responding to demand for bigger regional jets with its 100-seat CRJ1000 and continues to mull a 90-seat stretch of its Q400 turboprop. Regional airlines are thriving, but constant pressure on operating costs means their equipment is getting steadily bigger, the company’s top executives agreed at a pre-show briefing in Belfast last month.
German police arrested AvCraft Aviation CEO Ben Bartel last Wednesday at Frankfurt International Airport for tax evasion. Bartel, architect of a failed attempt to resurrect Germany’s Fairchild Dornier from bankruptcy, allegedly evaded €7 million ($8.53 million) in taxes through a fictitious transaction in the Cayman Islands.