United Airlines will soon decide on the allocation of 150 new regional jets (RJ) to its three United Express feeder carriers Air Wisconsin, Atlantic Coast Airlines (ACA) and SkyWest Airlines, following ratification by its pilots' union of a new contract relaxing scope clause restrictions.

The agreement permits United to replace 150 turboprops on a one-for-one basis with jet aircraft certified for 50-seats or less without regard to the size of the mainline fleet. It opens the door to replacing the 18 Air Wisconsin operated BAe 146s with a similar number of new 85-seat jets or 36 smaller jets.

All three feeder carriers are in the process of negotiating large new orders or converting options in anticipation that the present cap of 65 RJs will be lifted. Sources say that United is expected to allocate an equal number of additional RJs to the three Express operators.

Air Wisconsin may either add Bombardier CRJ200s to the nine already bought, or trade in the 50- seater in favour of an all Embraer ERJ-145 fleet. Ultimately it wants to add up to 100 aircraft and linked to this is a decision on a smaller 35-seat replacement for its 23 Fairchild Dornier 328 turboprops.

"We're waiting for direction from United," says Patrick Thompson, Air Wisconsin executive vice president. He adds that it is "looking at all options" to replace the 146s, with the emphasis on improved economics and mission range. BAE Systems is making a strong push to place the re-engined RJX-85 with the Appleton-based carrier.

SkyWest plans to spend $2 billion on new jets over the next 4-5 years, expanding its CRJ200 orderbook from 65 to 105 aircraft, says airline president Gerry Atkin. The airline wants to place 50 of these jets with its Express operation to supplement the 10 already in use. Skywest in turn will phase out 27 of its 92 Embraer EMB-120 Brasilia turboprops by 2004.

ACA wants to confirm orders for 15 328JETS and 27 CRJ200s, and place three more 50-seaters already ordered, "assuming a modest number of jets being allocated by United," says president Kerry Skeen. ACA's Express operation already has 46 CRJ200s in service or on order and holds options on 80 more. Its Jetstream 31 fleet has contracted from 28 to 21 turboprops over the past 10 months. The final 16 will be disposed of next year.

United's pilots have linked the addition of RJs to growing the mainline fleet beyond the baseline of 451 narrowbody and 141 widebody jets. United Express will be permitted five more RJs for each additional Boeing 747/767/777, three for every extra 100-seat plus narrowbody and one for every single 70- to 99-seater. The airline has 83 new aircraft on order, including 33 A319/A320s and 10 767/777s due for delivery next year.

Source: Flight International