After years of criticism, the CRJ-900 model is ﬁnally gaining acceptance in the regional market place.
Bombardier Aerospace became the ﬁrst regional jet manufacturer when it launched the 50-seater Canadair Regional Jet (CRJ) in 1992. Bombardier later offered a stretched version, the 70-seater CRJ-700, and, in 1999, it decided to investigate the possibility of the CRJ-900. Competition was ﬁerce, not only by the number of manufacturers vying for market share in the 80- to 110-seater market, but also by a shrinking customer base, with many US major and regional airlines bound by scope clauses. Scope clauses restricted the regionals from operating aircraft above a pre-determined seat restriction, currently resting above the 70-seat range. Pricing was also a consideration and the CRJ-900 had a sticker price of about $29m compared to $32.6m for Fairchild’s 928JET, $26m for Embraer’s ERJ-190-100 and $27.4m for BAE Systems’ Avro RJ-X85. In the end, BAE Systems and Fairchild left the race, leaving Bombardier and Embraer competing.
The CRJ-900 is a simple stretch and minimum change derivative of the Bombardier CRJ-700, with a baseline capacity of 86 seats in single-class conﬁguration. It incorporates a new winglet, reducing drag in cruise providing approximately 1% reduction in fuel burn, and aerodynamic changes that allow it to have airﬁeld performance similar to the CRJ-200 and CRJ-700 models.
The CRJ-900 has an overall length of 119.4ft (36.4m) compared to 106.8ft for the CRJ-700. Overall height is 24.7ft, while the fuselage maximum diameter is 8.1ft. The basic aircraft has a two-by-two seating configuration at 31-inch pitch and fore and aft lavatories. Customers have a wide range of interior layout options available, including mixed seat-pitch and two-class interiors.
The strengthened wing with a re-designed winglet has a span of 81.50ft. Two General Electric CF34-8C5 engines give the aircraft a cruise speed up to Mach 0.83 and an operating range of up to 1,976 nautical miles (3,408km). The -C5 engine has 7% higher thrust (to 14,255lb) than its predecessors. These engines are common with the CRJ-700, offering operators with a mixed fleet of CRJ-700/-900 aircraft savings in maintenance and spares.
The standard conﬁguration has an enlarged underfloor and aft baggage compartments. Overhead bins, underseat and wardrobe stowage areas raise the total baggage capacity to 10.50ft3 per passenger.
Changes over the CRJ-200 model, include a lower floor (by one inch) for increased aisle height, windows raised by four inches for increased visibility as well as natural lighting, a reduction in frame heights to provide a one-inch wider interior as well as the re-design of the overbins to increase head and shoulder clearances.
The CRJ-900 is available in standard, extended range (-ER), and long range (-LR) versions with maximum take-off weights of 80,500lb, 82,500lb, and 84,500lb respectively. European versions of 79,355lb, 81,560lb, and 83,765lb can be conﬁgured to minimise operational charges and fees.
The prototype CRJ-900 ﬁrst flew in February 2001 and Transport Canada awarded the Bombardier CRJ-900 aircraft type approval in September 2002. The US Federal Aviation Administration granted the aircraft a type approval in October 2002, the aircraft obtained European certiﬁcation that December. The ﬁrst aircraft was delivered to Mesa Airlines in January 2003, with entry into service in April.
Mesa Air Group, which operates for America West Airlines, had long been the sole customer for the CRJ-900. It signed a memorandum of understanding in May 2001 for 20 aircraft and took 20 options, which were converted in two separate ﬁrm orders. In January 2004, Mesa ordered 14 aircraft and placed options on another 40 while in April that year it ordered six aircraft. In 2003, the carrier also placed an order for ﬁve aircraft, model change from the CRJ-700. In total, Mesa has placed orders for 45 ﬁrm aircraft. GECAS also placed a 10-aircraft order and 20 options in 2000 but cancelled it in 2003.
At 31 December, a total of 39 aircraft had been delivered, among which were 38 for Mesa Airlines. Air Nostrum has also taken delivery of one aircraft. The carrier, which is looking at switching its CRJ-200ER backlog (estimated at 16 aircraft) to the CRJ-900 model, is allowing a ‘trial period’ with the CRJ-900 before conﬁrming the order.
Bombardier has concluded some key campaigns over the past two months. Lufthansa, a CRJ series customer since the early days, placed an order for 12 aircraft. Lufthansa Cityline will operate the new aircraft on some routes operated by the CRJ-100s that are under pressure from low-cost carriers. “Lufthansa needs the CRJ-900 to lower its cost per available seat mile down on strong routes,” said a source at the carrier.
Styrian Spirit, which ordered a CRJ-700 aircraft last year, placed an order for one CRJ-900 in November 2005.
Last month, Atlasjet signed a ﬁrm order for three CRJ-900s and took options on two additional aircraft. Like Lufthansa and Styrian Spirit, Atlasjet has been operating the CRJ-700 on domestic Turkish routes. “Our decision to acquire the Bombardier CRJ900 as our larger regional jet was based directly on our experience with the CRJ700,” said Tuncay Doganer, general manager, Atlasjet. “The CRJ-700 is a very economic and reliable aircraft. It allows us to attain our goal of fast turn-around times because we can load and unload passengers and baggage quickly, and also allows us to offer competitive fares. We expect the same from the Bombardier CRJ-900,” he added.
Bombardier is upbeat about the recent sales performance. “The CRJ-900 products will see some action this year,” Bombardier’s VP of airline marketing and airline analysis Barry McKinnon predicts. He expects the orderbook to double in the coming months. “We are in various discussions for 10 to 15 aircraft, and even 30 aircraft orders with customers,” he added. Bombardier expects CRJ-700 customers to move to the CRJ-900 models but more generally existing CRJ-100/200 customers to the CRJ-700/900 models. So far only 40% of them have moved to the 70- to 90-seat products. McKinnon anticipates more CRJ-900 sales than CRJ-700 sales over time. “The ﬁrm orders for the CRJ-700/900 products will also surpass those of the CRJ-100/200s after 13 years of existence.”
Relaxation on scope clauses will help the CRJ-900’s case. Compared to the pre-9/11 period, American Airlines has moved its scope restriction to 70-seats (it ordered 50 CRJ-700s), Delta can double its fleet of 70 seats in terms of units by 2007, United has unlimited units on its 70-seats (against 54 aircraft before) while US Airways has moved up its restriction to 90-seats and can operate up to 315 aircraft. The case of Northwest is under negotiation: its current status is 54 aircraft in the 50- to 69-seat range. Under a new unit, the carrier will have no scope clauses. The carrier has long been rumoured to be a launch customer for the CSeries customer but is more likely to order the CRJ-700/-900 models.
Other targets in the North American market include GoJet, a CRJ-700 operator. “Their selection of the CRJ-700 was based on economics. The CRJ-700 was 10% better than the competition,” argued McKinnon.
The CRJ-900 has 97% commonality with the CRJ-700. For existing CRJ operators, like Mesa the CRJ-900 offers additional passenger capacity while providing a high degree of operational compatibility and fleet flexibility, as well as “same type” rating for commonality in crewing, maintenance, spare parts and customer support. These factors were also vital in Lufthansa’s order.
Among other campaigns, Brit Air is again being approached: it was the launch customer for the CRJ-700 with a four-aircraft order and the CRJ-900 was a logical step. The carrier said in 2000 that the CRJ-900 ﬁtted in with the airline’s ﬁve-year plan for a 50-aircraft fleet, including 20 50-seaters, 20 70/80 seaters and 10 100-seaters but no orders were placed. Potential other campaigns in Europe could include SAS, for its Baltic operation, and Adria Airways.
One focus is Asia. Bombardier has a good market share for its CRJ products in China and Japan and is hopeful of placing the CRJ-900 in those markets. In India, Air Sahara, being now absorbed by Jet Airways, is a potential candidate. Thailand and Indonesia are also be potential targets.
“The CRJ-900 has yet to see an impact in the Asian market but it will. The big case is low-cost carriers,” says Trung Ngo, VP marketing and communications. “Maybe we have not had the right type of aircraft in the region,” conceded Ngo. “However we believe the 90-seat types are opening a market for medium density,” he added. Larger aircraft (referring to the A320) are in great demand in Asia, he continued. However the trafﬁc is not there to support that equipment, according to Ngo, who says that overcapacity means airlines start scaling back on frequencies and that the CRJ-900 is the right product to adjust capacity. “The CRJ-900 can be competitive on cost per available seat mile basis”, he said.
America West Airlines operates the CRJ-900 with a four-abreast, all-economy, 86-seat arrangement at 31 inches pitch, between cities such as Phoenix and Edmonton, a distance of 1,380nm. Scheduled block time is three hours and 32 minutes. America uses its CRJ-900 to supplement its narrow-body fleet primarily (A319) but also to open new routes.
“Economics is the driving force in selection of the Bombardier CRJ-700/-900 or the Embraer 170/-190 models,” said Bradford Rich, CFO of Skywest Airlines. Being the largest of the family, the CRJ-900 variant has the best economics. On a 500nm sector, the CRJ-900 has 21% lower cost than the CRJ-700 per seat, itself a 11% lower cost than the CRJ-200LR model. Seat mile costs are comparable to new generation narrow-bodies for low-cost operations. “Large regional jets compete effectively with narrow-bodies on an unit cost basis,” echoed McKinnon.
Bombardier says although the CRJ-900 is a smaller aircraft than the 190, it will be a viable competitor standing against JetBlue’s applications. Bombardier estimates that at $1.8 a gallon and a 500nm sector, the CRJ-900 has a unit cost of 10 cents. This compares with 12 cents for a 135-seat narrow-body mainline operator and 9.2 cents for a 135-seat low fare carrier. When compared with its closest competitor, the 190, McKinnon concludes that the latter needs to carry an additional 10 passengers per flight to match the CRJ-900 cost advantage. He argues that the CRJ-900 cash operating costs comes at less than $500,000 a month, based on fare of $85 on a 600 statute miles sector. “Under the same condition, the Embraer 190 will have a 35% higher cash cost and around 1,942 more passengers per month to break-even”, he continued.
List price for the CRJ-900 is $33.6m. Although there have not been any placements on operating leases, the lease rate of a CRJ-900 is estimated at around $240,000 a month.