Air Transport World

Regionals' M&E sophistication grows with the times. (maintenance and engineering)

Regionals' M&E sophistication grows with the times

The regional airline industry is not as simple as it once was, many long-time participants frequently complain. One of the differences from the past to the present is aircraft support practices. When air taxis and fixed base operators (FBOs) provided a few scheduled flights as part of the larger airline operation, aircraft support practices closely paralleled those of the company's main business.

Today, however, few airline operations are subordinate to a company's FBO function. True, they still enhance and complement one another. But in the overwhelming majority of cases, a company's airline operation drives the rest of the business.

As this shift in emphasis gained momentum, engine and airframe manufacturers found more and more that their customers' airline operations needed greater support than might have been expected from a company already versed in maintaining aircraft. The need for greater support increased further as many commuters shifted to regionals flying Part 25 aircraft in FAR 121 operations.

Add to this evolution the revolution in equipment sophistication, and the metamorphosis is little short of staggering. Where once a small airline added only a handful of aircraft in a decade, now they frequently add a dozen in as many months. And instead of adding a small number of larger piston-powered twins, regionals today largely buy increasingly complex turbine-powered aircraft with exotic panels filled with electronic flight instrumentation systems (EFIS), pressurization equipment, autopilots, flight management computers, area navigation systems, even microwave landing systems (MLS).

Clearly, the old days are past. One observer even claims the regional industry is well past the dawn of high-technology, using equipment often equal to that equipping the most advanced jets rolling off the lines at Long Beach, Seattle and Toulouse.

In the recent explosion of the regional industry, one can see the progression. New-generation aircraft powered by newtechnology engines arrived first. Then the panels went from electromechanical systems to high-tech electronics. …

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