Delta Air Lines has again stepped up its ambitious regional jet expansion plan, swooping in on 12 Embraer ERJ-145s suddenly being phased out by America West Airlines.

America West will terminate its 12-aircraft contract with Chautauqua Airlines in the second quarter, only two years into a 10-year deal. America West says the early termination is necessary to support the shutdown of its unprofitable Columbus, Ohio, mini-hub, where 10 of the 15 spokes are operated with ERJs.

Chautauqua, with the permission of America West, asked Delta if it wanted to take over the aircraft and pad its initial 22-aircraft commitment. "Obviously, Delta saw value in the product and could deploy the assets," says Chautauqua.

By taking on the 12 extra ERJ-145s, Delta will end 2003 with an industry-leading 384 regional jets. The carrier only hit the 300 mark on 1 February.

Source: Flight International