Paul Lewis / Washington DC

Three manufacturers have been invited to submit proposals for regional jets to replace the airline's ageing turboprops

US Airways has issued a fresh request for proposals (RfP) for up to 250 new regional jets, dusting off a stalled plan to modernise the increasingly uncompetitive turboprops operated by its commuter subsidiary US Airways Express.

The move comes as the Department of Justice (DoJ) delivered a coup de grâce to the troubled carrier's proposed merger with United Airlines. The DoJ blocked the deal in late July, believing that it would eliminate competition on major routes, leaving US Airways to build its future alone.

The RfP covers an initial purchase of 35 jets and options for 215 more from 30 seats up to the maximum 69-seat limit allowed under the airline's scope clause agreement with the Air Line Pilot Association (ALPA). The RfP replaces a dormant request for up to 400 aircraft issued in mid-1999. This was overtaken by the now-dead United-US Airways merger plan last year.

US Airways has tailored each RfP sent to the three main regional jet suppliers to match specific product lines. Bombardier's response will almost certainly be based on a mixed offering of 40/44/50-seat versions of its CRJ200 and stretched 70-seat CRJ700, with Embraer offering the similarly sized ERJ-135/140/145 and ERJ-170. Fairchild Dornier is proposing the 32-seat 328JET and 70-seat 728JET.

The airline has given manufacturers until 13 August to submit proposals. This is also the deadline set by US Airways' management in a letter sent to its pilots to respond to a demand for the scope restrictions to be relaxed. The agreement with ALPA limits its Express carriers to 70 regional jets with no more than 69 seats and is not due to be amended before early 2003.

There are 59 CRJ200s andERJ-145s in the Express fleet, operated by Chatauqua, Mesa and Trans States. None are operated by US Airways' wholly owned carriers Allegheny, PSA, Piedmont and Potomac. US Airways' competitors, United and Delta, have secured major scope clause concessions and it is the last US major not to have placed a large regional jet order.

The letter points out that "regional jets represent nearly two-thirds of the commuter fleet of Delta and Continental, while at US Airways only 18% are [regional jets]. Looking at the basic economics, we have crippled our airline by failing to achieve an early resolution to this issue."

US Airways pilots have accused management of making them the "scapegoat" for the airline's current problems and by choosing to put on hold talks during the 15-month United merger discussions.

Source: Flight International