Continental Express plans to double the size of its regional jet fleet to 200 aircraft as the carrier begins to accelerate the disposal of turboprops and transition to an all-jet operation.

"We think we're about half-way there in terms of placing our firm orders with Embraer. We're looking at a fleet of probably 200 ERJ-145/135s over the next five to seven years," says David Siegel, Continental Express president.

Brazilian manufacturer Embraer has just handed over the first ERJ-135 to Continental Express, which is the launch customer. The Houston-based carrier has ordered 25 of the 37-seat jet, plus 25 options. It has taken delivery of 48 of the 75 larger ERJ-145s on firm order and is scheduled to begin exercising the rest of its 50 options shortly.

"We have our next tranche coming up in December on the ERJ-145 and you should expect an announcement on that fourth tranche which will bring us to 100 firm orders. We have about one year to the second tranche on the ERJ-135. We exercise tranches in blocks of 25 around 18 months ahead of delivery," explains Siegel.

Continental Express plans to phase out all of its turboprops within five years and has retired nine Embraer EMB-120 Brasilias and the first of three ATR 72s. Three more of the carrier's 26 remaining EMB-120 Brasilias are to go before the end of the year and will be followed by the return of eight of its 38 leased ATR 42-500s next year.

"We've started with the Brasilias because, when we looked at the used turboprop market, it's the highest in demand and has been easy to sell. We'll finish retiring the Brasilia fleet in early- to mid- 2001 and that will eliminate a fleet type for us. When we're done, we'll then start with the Beech 1900s," says Siegel.

Continental Express' goal is to replace all five turboprop types, including its 25 Beech 1900s, with one regional jet family. The 19-seat turboprops, which are operated mainly from Cleveland, will be replaced by ERJ-135s.

They will be used on routes to White Plains, Nashville, Charlotte and Detroit. "This represents the aircraft that is going to get us to an all-jet fleet," Siegel says.

Source: Flight International