Air Transport World

Order up! With balance sheets improving, regional airlines growing and consolidation taking hold, no wonder manufacturers also are recovering.(includes related article on Saab Aircraft and on aircraft information technology systems)(Cover Story)

Analysts may blanch at the suggestion as simplistic but one way to gauge whether the regional aircraft industry is recovering is to examine the size and frequency of recent aircraft orders. Consider: In March, Saab Aircraft received a sizable order from U.S. regional Mesaba for up to 72 340s, 30 new 340B Plus models plus options and 20 preowned 34-seat 340s, having beaten out the Dornier 328 for the prize. The order is Saab's first major one since American Eagle placed a follow-on order for 25 340Bs in early 1995.

Aero International (Regional), the joint-venture company involving ATR, Jetstream and Avro, received back-to-back orders for 25 ATR 42-500s, 17 from launch customer Air Littoral. Now, Continental Express has placed an order for eight plus 12 options, the first of this model ordered in the U.S. The order was valued at $260 million, based on the exercise of all options. Indications are that Express will place additional orders over the next six months for the faster, much quieter variant of the ATR 42.

By fall, American Eagle is expected to announce its long-awaited order for new aircraft, probably Saab 2000s or Canadair Regional Jets, or both. Then, there is Bombardier's Regional Aircraft Div., which delivered the 100th Canadair RJ to U.S. launch customer Comair, a significant feat for the Canadian manufacturer that for now, has de facto control of the 50-seat regional-jet market.

Recent orders for Avro quadjets and ATR 42s and 72s, 100 aircraft collectively at this writing, de Havilland Dash 8s, 42, and the 19-seat Beech 1900D, 65, to name a few, indicate that this segment of the industry is on the mend.

Even financially troubled Dornier continues to post orders and tap new markets. The German manufacturer took orders for four 328s from new customers in France and Italy. Dijon-based Proteus will operate two Do 328s on behalf of Europair, which is part of the Air France/Air Inter network. Italian operator Minerva will take two 328s.

Waiting in the wings is Embraer, which has 18 firm orders plus 16 options for its not-yet-certificated EMB-145 regional jet. Sam Hill, president of the Ft. Lauderdale division, Embraer Aircraft Corp., predicts, perhaps too optimistically, that the Brazilian manufacturer will have secured 200 additional orders for the jet by June, following a demonstration tour of North America.

Even Fokker, which announced its shutdown in March, had booked 63 orders in 1995, a 25% increase over the previous year. Of these, 16 were for the Fokker 100, 31 for the smaller Fokker 70 and 16 for the Fokker 50 turboprop. With the orders came new customers Vietnam Airlines for the jet line and Air Zimbabwe for the turboprops.

Unlike past recoveries, this one reflects a growing sophistication and discipline on behalf of regional airlines and manufacturers alike. Both are trying diligently to rein in their costs.

AI(R) brought home this point in a recent market outlook: "The relentless drive to cut costs and eliminate waste has necessitated sizable redundancies at some carriers, outsourcing of functions at others and at all airlines, a complete reevaluation of the ways in which even the most basic of functions is performed. …

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