American Airlines regional subsidiary American Eagle is planning to become an all-jet operation - a declaration that will put pressure on other US regionals to follow suit.

American Eagle confirmed at the UK's Farnborough air show in September that it is to buy 75 Embraer RJ-135 37-seat jets. The deal also includes 75 options and may potentially be worth $2 billion. First deliveries will take place in August next year for an in-service date of October or November 1999.

The high degree of commonality with the 50-seat ERJ-145, which American Eagle ordered last year and is now phasing into service, was a key factor in the US carrier's decision to choose the ERJ-135 over the Fairchild Dornier 428JET. But Bill Kostel, director of flight planning at American Eagle, says that there were other important considerations. "If you look at the combination of range, speed and commonality, this was still the aircraft of choice," he says. "We are convinced it will be extremely efficient, just as its big brother, the -145, has proven to be."

The new jets will allow the carrier to continue its "modest" expansion programme, says Kostel, and will permit a long-term transition from turboprops to jets. They will replace Saab 340s and ATR 42s. "American Eagle has entered a new era," says Kostel. "Regional jets have become key to our mission as the advent of these small jets has changed the market place," he adds.

The Continental Airlines regional subsidiary, Continental Express, has already committed to an all-jet fleet and has put many of its regional jets on routes that compete directly with American Eagle.

Also at Farnborough, Continental Express underlined this decision by turning 75 options on the ERJ-145 into firm orders. That takes its firm orders for the aircraft to 100, in addition to 25 firm and 50 option orders for the ERJ-135. Continental Express president David Siegel says the carrier will move towards an all-jet fleet within five years. This is a cost-based decision, he says, in which operating costs will be better and revenues "significantly improved" because of the regional jet. "We want to be the first carrier that moves to an all-jet fleet that is capacity-optimised and cost-based," says Siegel.

Such commitments to the regional jet by two major regional carriers will put pressure on others, especially the affiliates of other US major carriers. Delta Air Lines' affiliate Comair, for example, has been a pioneer of the regional jet in the US. Delta has built a hub in Cincinnati based largely on the success of Comair's Canadair CRJs that feed the mainline service. Many believe that Comair, followed by other Delta affiliates, will be the next to declare all-jet intentions, which will leave affiliates of United Airlines and US Airways to make the jet-versus-turboprop decision.

Source: Airline Business