Airline to split long-awaited order between Bombardier CRJs and Embraer 170/175s

Rival manufacturers Bombardier and Embraer will share the spoils of US Airways' much-anticipated large order for regional jets. The carrier is to divide its planned acquisition of 200 aircraft equally between the 50-seat Canadian CRJ200 and the Brazilian 70-seat Embraer 170/175. The first order is expected soon, with initial deliveries by year-end.

Senior airline and industry officials confirm that US Airways plans to split the purchase rather than order from just one manufacturer. In what one source describes as a "highly complex" deal, the carrier intends to order 100 Bombardier CRJ200s and a mix of 100 70-seat Embraer 170s and stretched 76-seat 175s. The airline also plans to take options on another 300 regional jets, intending to have 300 in service by 2006.

Financing was a major factor in the decision to split the deal. It is believed a proportion of the aircraft will be supplied by GE Capital Aviation Services (GECAS), which already has 50 170s and a similar number of CRJ200/700/900 series aircraft on order. GECAS has agreed to provide the carrier with $350 million in leverage lease equity as part of US Airways' financial restructuring which has enabled it to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Another deciding consideration was US Airways' need for early delivery positions. Swiss International Air Lines' recent cut in its order and delayed delivery schedule has freed up four of the 12 170s planned for delivery this year, with six going to Alitalia and two to GECAS. United Airlines' recent Chapter 11 filing has also thrown into doubt the planned delivery schedule of CRJ200s to United Express operators. One carrier, Atlantic Coast Airlines, has already deferred four deliveries.

US Airways has made no secret of its preference for the 170/175 over the competing CRJ700, including specific weight and seat provisions in its recently negotiated new scope clause agreement with the US Air Line Pilots Association. Under this deal, the larger 170/175 will be operated by subsidiary carrier MidAtlantic Express and flown by furloughed mainline pilots, while the CRJ200s are likely to be divided between wholly owned Allegheny, Piedmont and PSA and private partner carriers Chautauqua and Mesa.

Meanwhile, Embraer has flown the first production-standard 170, the seventh aircraft off the line.

Source: Flight International