US regional Continental Express opened Asian Aerospace 2000 with a new order for 100 Embraer regional jets, doubling the number of small jets it has on firm order.

The $1.8 billion deal takes Continental Express' total confirmed orders for ERJ-145s and 135s to 200. It will continue to take delivery of new regional jets at a rate of 30 a year until the end of 2003.

Continental Express was launch customer for the ERJ-145 at the 1996 Farnborough air show. Since then, Brazilian manufacturer Embraer has regularly announced large batches of regional jet sales at each of the succeeding air shows. Firm orders for the ERJ-145 stand at 402, with 271 options, while orders for the ERJ-135 stand at 165, with 157 options.

This latest order is for 75 ERJ-145s and 25 ERJ-135s. Of the -145s, a batch of 25 was confirmed in December, but the order was not revealed until the first day of the show.

Bruce Kink, Continental Express senior director, marketing, says the airline is on track to become an all-jet operation by the first or second quarter of 2003, when it will have phased out all of its Raytheon Beech 1900Ds, Embraer Brasilias and ATR turboprops.

Kink points out that the regional jet has been the foundation of the airline's growth and success ever since the initial 1996 order was placed.

"We started off with 25 firm orders and 175 options and a lot of people thought we were a little crazy and that we would never need all those aircraft. But we made a bet on Embraer and it turned out to be the right bet," Kink says.

The airline serves 68 cities, with 940 daily departures from its hubs in Cleveland, Ohio, Houston, Texas, and New York Newark. It will introduce 25 new destinations this year, including six Mexican cities.

Kink points out that the regional jet has enabled the airline not only to add a number of new routes, but also to provide hub-to-hub links and feed for parent company Continental Airlines. "We are creating extra value for Continental," he says.

Source: Airline Business