Bombardier Aerospace, buoyed by a record $1.3 billion sale of Canadair Regional Jet (CRJ) 200LRs to Northwest Airlines, is increasing production of the 50-seat aircraft to eight a month.

The US carrier, based in Minneapolis, has announced a firm order for 54 CRJ-200LRs and has taken options on a further 70 aircraft. "This is the biggest order in the history of Bombardier- it takes our total CRJ-100/200 orderbook to 532 aircraft with an additional 240 options," says regional aircraft president Rob Gillespie. Accordingly, CRJ-100/200 annual production at its Montreal plant is to increase from 75 to 90 jets a year by late this year.

Northwest, which selected the CRJ200 over the competing Brazilian Embraer ERJ-145, is scheduled to receive its first jet in April 2000, with deliveries continuing to mid-2004.

The aircraft are intended as replacements for the Saab 340 and British Aerospace Jetstream 31 turboprops operated by Northwest Airlink carriers Express Airlines I and Mesaba Airlines. Northwest, however, declined to say how many of the new jets would be going to either carrier and did "not exclude other candidates as a possibility".

Under Northwest's existing scope-clause contract with its pilots, its Airlink carriers are allowed to take delivery of up to 54 regional jets, seating a maximum of 60 passengers. Its reticence in identifying operators for the new aircraft is believed to be linked to pressure now being exerted on Memphis-based Express to make contractual concessions.

Northwest acknowledges a factor in its selection of the CRJ-200 was the option of larger aircraft in the same family of regional jets. It is still looking for a suitable replacement for its 173 McDonnell Douglas DC-9s and is a member of Bombardier's 14-strong airline advisory council for the proposed 90-120 seat BRJ-X development.

Gillespie claims: "The trend towards larger aircraft is very clear and very strong. As we look forward we see very large growth." Rival Brazilian manufacturer Embraer has reached a similar conclusion and last week signaled to airlines its intent to extend its range of regional jets to 70 and 90-seats.

Bombardier, in the meantime, has begun final assembly of the first of four CRJ-700 test aircraft, with roll out and maiden flight scheduled for May. The company says it now has orders in hand for 96 CRJ-700s and is planning to initially produce the new 70-seat jet at a rate of four a month, with first deliveries starting in late 2000.

Source: Flight International