All Nippon Airways (ANA) and Japan Airlines (JAL) are planning to expand their regional operations, with negotiations under way for follow-on purchases of additional Bombardier 50- to 70-seaters.

Sources say JAL and rival ANA have improved the profitability of several domestic routes by switching from mainline aircraft to CRJ200s and Q400s. JAL has also used Dash 8s to replace ageing NAMC YS-11s.

Industry sources say JAL, whose subsidiaries already operate six CRJ200s, three Q400s and have two more Q400s on order, is seeking to acquire "several" additional aircraft of both types.

ANA in February placed a follow-on order for two Q400s, lifting its Q400 fleet to three in service and five on order, and sources say a few more may be ordered by year-end. Neither ANA nor JAL is expected to place a large order for the type but both will probably gradually tack on additional aircraft.

JAL has the funds to invest in regional aircraft expansion this year partly because it has decided against placing an early order for Boeing 7E7s. Sources expect a contract for additional CRJ200s and Q400s will be completed within the next few months assuming price negotiations are fruitful.

JAL says the carrier has "no precise date" for ordering more regional aircraft but adds that "in the next three years from FY2004 we expect to increase the number of domestic regional or commuter type aircraft, based on equipment already in the fleet [for example to replace YS-11s] and we are studying order requirements."

JAL subsidiary J-Air already operates six CRJ200s. Sister subsidiary Japan Air Commuter (JAC) operates three Dash 8 Q400s and has two on order. JAC still operates 11 YS-11s.

A total of 13 Q400s are in service or on order for Japanese carriers. Bombardier marketing vice-president Barry MacKinnon foresees a large market for the 70-seater on Japanese domestic routes under 700km (380nm). The CRJ is aimed at long-haul domestic routes and flights from smaller Japanese cities to China, South Korea and Taiwan.

Source: Flight International