CRJ1000 makes case for low-fare regionals

 - March 26, 2007, 8:29 AM
The low-fare character of regional air transport in much of Britain is spreading south as Air France regional subsidiaries prepare to react to the expected incursion of cut-rate airlines onto the domestic market and launch customers gear up for the arrival of newly ordered, 100-seat Bombardier CRJ1000s.

Both Brit Air and fellow wholly owned Air France unit Régional aim to make so-called transversal services–the routes between major cities outside Paris– more competitive after a bad patch in 2005. While the overall market for flights from Marseilles airport grew 2.7 percent last year, transversal flights from the southern French city leapt by almost 9 percent. The same phenomenon surfaced in services from Toulouse, Lyon and Bordeaux.

Marc Lamidey, Brit Air president and CEO, told AIN that Air France’s new pricing strategy centers on lowering fares through the use of larger-capacity aircraft on transversal routes that are not covered by France’s high-speed railroad network.

Lamidey said that Brit Air’s planned fleet of CRJ1000s, scheduled to arrive at a rate of four a year starting in early 2010, will replace its 13 Fokker 100s, resulting in an all-Bombardier CRJ fleet. “Market conditions change in three years, but it is likely some will be used on routes from Paris-CDG, Paris-Orly and Lyon,” he added. Brit Air already operates 19 fifty-seat CRJ100s and 12 CRJ700s and plans to take three more 70-seaters by summer’s end. 

Launched in late February on the strength of three firm orders for 38 aircraft, the CRJ1000 also counts Italian low-fare airline MyAir as a launch customer. MyAir had placed a firm order for 19 CRJ900s, but with the launch of the CRJ1000 opted for 15 of the larger airplanes instead while retaining positions on four 86-seaters. A third unidentified customer has also placed a firm order for 15 CRJ1000s and holds options on another 15. 

Although at $46 million the CRJ1000’s published price exceeds that of the 100-seat Embraer E190 by some $11 million, Bombardier Aerospace president and COO Pierre Beaudoin said the airplanes will in practice sell for about the same amount. He also emphasized that the Bombardier airplane will weigh some 25,000 pounds less and cost 15 percent less to operate. [Bombardier lists the CRJ1000LR’s mtow at 91,800 pounds; Embraer lists the 2,300-nm-range E190AR’s mtow at 114,119 pounds. However, the standard E190, whose range more closely approximates that of the Bombardier product, operates at an mtow of 105,358 pounds, only 13,558 pounds more than the CRJ1000LR.–Ed.]

Of course, fair operating-cost comparisons must take into account mission profiles and fleet compositions, and Bombardier has no illusions about the target market for the CRJ series; major airlines figure minimally in its demand estimates for some 400 airplanes over 20 years. With its roomier cabin and longer range, the E190 appeals to a wider audience. 

Still, as Bombardier has tweaked interior configurations with each new iteration of the CRJ, cabin comfort and utility has improved. Previously designated the CRJ900X, the CRJ1000 will measure 9 feet, 8 inches longer than the biggest Bombardier airplane in production, come with larger windows and offer more overhead baggage space. Using a 2- to 5-percent more powerful version of the GE CF34-8C5s on the CRJ900, the newest CRJ will fly as far as 1,691 nm under optimal conditions. Other changes include a 7.5-percent wing area increase using trailing-edge and wingtip extensions, stronger main landing gear and carbon brakes.

Scheduled for first flight in the summer of next year and certification in late 2009, the CRJ1000 program will cost the company some $300 million, all of which will come from company cash flow, said Beaudoin.