Air Wisconsin wants to trade in its Fairchild Dornier 328 turboprops for new 32/44-seat regional jets, while playing down interest in the British Aerospace Avro RJ-X in the face of United Airlines' scope clause restrictions.

The United Express carrier is evaluating the newly certificated Embraer RJ-135 and the competing Pratt & Whitney PW306-powered 328JET, with the planned stretched 44-seat 428JET. A decision hinges, however, on United agreeing with its pilots' union on revising scope clauses on regional aircraft use.

"We're studying both these aircraft and would like to take action once the scope clauses are resolved. We would hope to be able to put something on the market late next year and eventually swap out the 328 turboprops," says Air Wisconsin president and chief executive Geoff Crowley.

The Appleton-based carrier operates 10 leased 32-seat 328s and says that it will take delivery of another six by November. The additional aircraft are former Horizon Air and Mountain Air Express 328s leased in from Fairchild until the end of 2005, with early break clauses.

Crowley declines to say how many regional jets are required, although he admits that the number will be "greater" than the current 16 turboprops.

United's scope clause agreement limits the number of regional jets operated by its seven Express carriers to 65 aircraft, each seating 50 or fewer passengers. This includes Atlantic Coast Airlines, which has just placed a conditional order for 55 328/428JETs. The agreement expires next April and the carrier is negotiating to raise the cap to 284 aircraft of 45 seats or fewer (Flight International, 21-27 July).

The only exception to the agreement is Air Wisconsin's 18 British Aerospace 146s, 11 of which are leased from United. The carrier is one of the key 146/RJ operators targeted by BAe as potential launch customers for the improved RJ-X.

"The growth is at the smaller jet level," says Crowley. Any change to the 146 fleet is also understood to be a "political" issue within United. Under the scope clause, United has agreed to "grandfather in" the aircraft, preventing any change to individual tail numbers.

Air Wisconsin has received four of the nine Bombardier Canadair Regional Jets it has on order.

Source: Flight International