United Airlines has launched service on its new Embraer 175 aircraft, beginning a long-awaited programme to upgrade its regional fleet with the dual-class aircraft.

“It’s a new era,” says Sandra Pineau-Boddison, the Chicago-based Star Alliance carrier's senior vice-president of Express, at an event at Chicago O’Hare International airport today.

Two E175s entered service between Chicago and Washington National on 17 May, and between Chicago and Boston Logan today.

United will add two to four aircraft per month for a total of 27 of the type by the end of 2014 and 70 by the end of 2015, says Pineau-Boddison. Mesa Airlines and SkyWest Airlines operate the aircraft.

All of the airline's E175s are Embraer’s enhanced model with an up to 6.4% lower fuel burn compared to the base model. This achieved with new winglets and aerodynamic clamps.

United will use its E175s primarily in business markets where there are high numbers of premium travellers, says Pineau-Boddison.

In June, United plans to expand its network with the aircraft to Atlanta, Minneapolis/St. Paul and New York LaGuardia from Chicago O'Hare, and to Austin, Atlanta and New Orleans from Houston Intercontinental.

The E175 will begin service from San Francisco to Austin, Dallas/Fort Worth, Minneapolis/St. Paul and St. Louis in September and October.

Pineau-Boddison says that they plan to introduce the aircraft across United’s network, including at additional hubs, by the end of 2015.

United has outfitted the E175s with 76 first, economy plus and economy seats with power outlets at every seat in first class. The economy cabin sports blue slimline seats designed by Priestemangoode that the airline is installing across its narrowbody fleet.

The aircraft will replace smaller, less efficient regional jets with up to 50 seats - Bombardier CRJ200s, and both Embraer ERJ-135s and ERJ-145s - in United’s fleet. The carrier plans to remove 43 of the small jets in 2014 with more expected to leave in 2015.

Ron Baur, vice-president of fleet at United, says that the E175s will “essentially replace” 50-seat regional jets, though he declines to comment on the speed of the replacements after 2014.

“We like to maintain fleet flexibility,” he says.

American Airlines and Delta Air Lines began replacing small regional jets with E175s and Bombardier CRJ900s, respectively, in 2013. Both airlines have configured the aircraft with dual cabins and amenities that cater to business travellers.

The E175s are just part of a United's $2.9 billion to $3.1 billion gross capital expenditure programme in 2014, which also includes new Boeing 787 aircraft, new airport facilities in Boston, San Francisco and London, and customer-facing technology upgrades.

Source: Cirium Dashboard