American Eagle has become the launch customer for the 44-seat Embraer ERJ-140 with an order for 130 aircraft.

The deal follows the rejection by American Airlines pilots of a new contract that would have lifted the cap on the number of 50-seat jets the regional affiliate can operate.

Eagle has converted most of its outstanding orders for 37-seat ERJ-135s to the larger -140, and converted 66 options to firm orders, all of which are expected to be ERJ-140s.

The deal, which takes Eagle's total ERJ firm orders to 229 aircraft, plus 48 options, also accelerates deliveries, with up to 194 aircraft expected to arrive between 2001 and 2006.

Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas-based Eagle will receive a total of 40 ERJ-135s before deliveries switch to the -140 in the second quarter of next year. The airline will also take delivery next year of the last of 59 ERJ-145 50-seaters on firm order and has no plans to exercise any of its 18 options for additional aircraft because of scope clause limits.

The American scope clause limits Eagle to a maximum of 67 regional jets with 45 or more seats. The airline also has 25 70-seat Bombardier CRJ700s on firm order, plus 25 on option, and has reconfirmed its intention to begin taking delivery of these aircraft in August next year.

The contract rejected by mainline American pilots would have lifted the restrictions on 50-seaters, but barred Eagle from flying 70-seat regional jets.

Talks on the new contract will not resume until next year. Eagle says it has the flexibility in its contract with Embraer to shift deliveries from 40-seaters to 50-seaters if the scope clause is relaxed.

Source: Flight International