Karen Walker/Kevin O'Toole/San Antonio, Texas

The US Regional Airlines Association's annual convention - this year in San Antonio, Texas - was a first for Debby McElroy as president, after taking the helm from Walt Coleman who retired this year. The RAA's membership is at an all-time high of 60 airlines and 388 associate members, with the re-energising impact of the regional jet showing no signs of abating. McElroy says that as this segment of the industry undergoes rapid change, so the RAA will need to adapt to meet its needs: in particular, priority will be given to air traffic control requirements and to educating Congress about the increasing importance of regional service.

Regional manufacturers are increasingly bullish about prospects for the upper end of the market - 90 seats plus - despite continuing uncertainty about pilot scope clause restrictions in the USA.

Embraer, which will begin cutting metal on the first 70-seater ERJ-170 in July or August, is turning its attention to the ERJ-190. Final assembly of the first of four pre-series aircraft will begin in late 2002. There will be two versions- a 98-seater and a 108-seater. Crossair is the launch customer for the ERJ-190.

Bombardier, meanwhile, has slipped its launch date for the CRJ900 90-seater regional jet by six months, but remains on schedule for a 2002 third quarter certification. BAE Systems is seeking to add more launch customers for its 100-seat-plus RJX; while Fairchild Aerospace says there is increasing interest in its proposed 928JET and it seems likely that the company will add this version to its regional jet family rather than a 50-seater.

But the same manufacturers admit that predicting how such aircraft will fit into the US market remains unclear while scope clause restrictions continue to operate. "It is very difficult to make a determination about how scope issues will soften or harden the future," says Fairchild's executive vice president, sales and marketing, Barry Ecclestone. "The real battleground will be right in the middle, in the 70-90 seat range."

Source: Airline Business