SkyWest Airlines has concluded a new feeder agreement with United Airlines increasing its allocation of United Express regional jets to 55 aircraft, and clearing the way for the carrier to place the first 35 of a newly announced deal for up to 64 Bombardier CRJ200s.

The Utah-based carrier has increased its total CRJ200 commitment to 248 aircraft, of which 100 are on firm order. This latest CRJ200 purchase includes another 29 conditional orders, which it could put into service with its United Express or Delta Connection operations, says Ron Reber, SkyWest chief operating officer.

SkyWest already has orders in hand for 66 CRJ200s, 16 having been delivered to date. The carrier plans to place 46 -200s with its Salt Lake City-based Delta operation. SkyWest's remaining 20 jets, of which two are in service, and the second tranche of 35 new aircraft, will operate as part of its Denver-based United Express arm.

SkyWest, like fellow Delta Connection operators Comair and Atlantic Southeast and Atlantic Coast Jet, has opted for a mix of 40, 44- and 50-seat CRJ200s. While the aircraft are structurally identical, Bombardier has had to cut the cost of the smaller capacity versions to compete with the EmbraerERJ-135, -140 and -145.

The Canadian manufacturer has accordingly capped the number of 40- and 44-seat CRJ200s to a percentage of the overall CRJ200 buy. "We know what the limit is, but have made no decision on the mix. It's a market issue and is United/Delta's call," says Reber.

Delivery of the new aircraft will run concurrently with the last order placed in 1999, with 18 entering service this year, 31 in 2002, 36 in 2003 and the remaining three in early 2004. The 29 conditional orders would follow, but a decision on a United or Delta configuration would need to be placed a year ahead of delivery.

SkyWest hopes to place the extra CRJ200s with United under the new scope clause agreement with the pilots union, which allows it to expand the number of regional jets as the mainline fleet grows. Reber also suggests a new scope clause agreement at Delta might allow SkyWest to add larger 70-seat jets and to switch some of its CRJ200 order to CRJ700s.

Source: Flight International