Air Transport World

Blurring the lines: as RJs get bigger, the divisions between Regional, mainline and budget airlines are getting harder to see.(Regional)

More than a decade ago, the difference between a Regional airline and a mainline carrier was obvious even to the untrained eye. Regionals were the ones that flew planes with those spinner things on the wings. The big airlines flew jets. Even after regional jets began arriving in large numbers in the late 1990s, differentiating the two still was relatively easy because the RJs tended to perform in the identical feeder roles as their predecessor turboprops.

Today, however, that no longer is the case. "There seems to be a blurring of what you might call the traditional roles," Ponte Vedra, Fla.-based aviation analyst Ed Greenslet agrees to ATW. Indeed, RJs in North America routinely are flying stage lengths formerly reserved for 737s and A319s, while the development of larger RJs that fly faster and farther with a level of comfort heretofore unimagined in small jets is confusing the issue even more. "We are talking about aircraft size and design and type that really didn't exist before. And it all started with the RJ in the 35-to-50-seat size," says Greenslet.

A case in point is JetBlue Airways, which last year surprised the industry with a launch order for 100 Embraer 190s to complement its fleet of A320s. Few successful budget airlines operate more than one aircraft type and none operate RJs yet. But then the GE CF34-powered 190 is not your father's RJ. Currently in certification testing with deliveries set to begin late next year, it will seat 100 passengers and offer a near-transcon range of 2,100 nm. Like its smaller sister ship, the 170, it has plenty of headroom, wide aisles and in JetBlue's configuration will feature LiveTV at every seat. "We have great hopes for this aircraft," CEO David Neeleman said at the rollout of the 190 in Brazil in February. …

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