The British Airways and Qantas combined purchase up to 60 large regional aircraft has moved a step closer with the submission, on 7 May, of competing proposals by BAE Systems, Bombardier, Embraer and Fairchild Dornier.

The airlines are currently scheduled to make their final selection of a new 70-110-seat family of jets in September, though it may be next year before contracts are signed, according to industry sources. The competition represents the next major regional re-equipment by a European carrier.

It is understood that the BA and Qantas request for proposals (RFP) is broken into two separate requirements for 15 firm orders and 15 options for each carrier. This is smaller than initial expectation, but the number is expected to grow long term with BA's regional operations alone needing as many as 100 new aircraft.

BA needs aircraft to replace its fleet of ATR 42/72, BAe 146, ATP and Bombardier Dash 8-300 in service with British Regional Airlines, CityFlyer Express and Brymon Airways. Qantas needs a similar replacement for the 17 146 aircraft operated by Airlink carriers National Jet Systems and Southern Australian Airlines.

The RFP issued by the two airlines is understood to favour the Embraer ERJ170/190 and the Fairchild Dornier 728JET/ 928JET family of aircraft in terms of required seat size. The two manufacturers are eager to consolidate their earlier sales success, with Crossair ordering 60 ERJ170 and ERJ190-200s and Lufthansa a similar number of 728JETS. British Regional Airlines is already a large-scale user of ERJ-145s.

Bombardier is offering the CRJ700 and a new stretch CRJ900. These have a narrower four abreast cabin cross section and are capped in size at a maximum of 86 seats. BAE is pushing the RJX85/100, six of which CityFlyer already holds options on, but the design's age and slower airspeed may put it at a disadvantage.

Source: Flight International