Air Wisconsin has begun to wind down its fleet of Fairchild Dornier 328 turboprops and ageing BAe 146s without replacing the aircraft, as the United Express carrier starts to take delivery of up to 150 new 50-seat Bombardier CRJ200s and moves to an all-jet fleet. Fairchild Dornier had been hoping to replace the turboprops with the similarly sized 328JET regional jet.

"United has asked us to get the aircraft out as quickly and as inexpensively as possible. There is no intent to replace them with a small jet," says Air Wisconsin chief financial officer Jim Clarke.

The 328 fleet has contracted from 23 last year to 13 and it will further shrink to 10 by July. The remaining lease deals extend through to 2005, although the carrier could opt to terminate early. The turboprop has been phased out of the United Express Denver hub and is progressively being replaced at Chicago by new CRJ200s.

Air Wisconsin has also started returning its BAe 146s, reducing the fleet from 18 to 13 jets.

The carrier says the aircraft are expensive to maintain, but there is no new four-engined replacement regional jet suitable to operate to Aspen, Colorado.

Clarke says the airline will continue operating a "subset of 10" 146s from Denver while United wants it to continue operating on the lucrative Aspen route. The only alternative is swapping the aircraft for used Avro RJ85/100s.

Air Wisconsin plans to take delivery of an additional 18 50-seat jets this year, including two ex-Midway Airlines aircraft leased from GE Capital Aviation Services which will be converted from CRJ200ERs to LRs. The airline ordered 51 CRJ200s last year and has 24 more on conditional order subject to United resolving its pilot union scope clause problems and agreeing to take the aircraft in 2004.

Source: Flight International