Carl Albert, chief executive of Fairchild Aerospace calls it a revolution, a description delegates at the Regional Airline Association meeting in Arizona would have been hard pressed to disagree with. The revolution in question was the switch to regional jets, and not just 50 and 70-seaters, but 30, 40 and 90 plus-seaters too.

The evidence was there to see in the static park, with Fairchild Dornier and Embraer 30-seaters facing each other under the desert sun. Like rivals Bombardier and British Aerospace, both aircraft manufacturers were busy discussing plans for new family members. Even the engine makers were adding fuel to the regional revolution. Rolls-Royce issued forecasts which predicted a requirement for more than 7,000 jets with between 30 and 85 seats over the next 19 years.

Away from the marketing hype, it appears the regional business really is in the process of a dramatic transition. The predicted flood of jets is in full flow, and their penetration to all capacity levels seems virtually inevitable. This leaves turboprop manufacturers fighting a rearguard action, primarily aimed at re-focusing on different market niches and needs.

But in case you think the revolution is over, think again. To quote Winston Churchill, "it's not the end, not even the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning".

As the market itself drives the need for jets, so the market itself seems to be changing. Further dramatic change lays ahead. Within a few years, the second and even third generation of jets are expected to begin displacing the pioneers. Regional passengers, it seems, like the jet experience at all levels but will increasingly demand big-jet comfort.

How far, and how fast the changes happen in North America, the dominant market for the regionals, depends on the fate of pilot scope clauses. The coming development of larger 108-seat regional jets underlines the conviction that this particular job protection scheme is an out-dated irrelevancy. The question is will the pilots listen, and how will airline management handle the fallout?

Source: Flight International