Regional Jet Planes Are in Hot Demand

NOVEMBER 20, 2000

The Bombardier Aerospace manufacturing plant is a place where hydraulic hammers sing soprano, where mechanical cranes move amid a sea of gray metal. And every two days it's a place where regional jets are born. Regional jets are revolutionizing the commercial airline industry. Quieter, faster and more fuel efficient than their turbo-prop powered predecessors, these planes are being bought faster than Bombardier can build them.

From 1997 to 1998 Atlantic Southeast Airlines ordered 57 regional jets from Bombardier, 39 of which have been delivered and put into service from ASA's Atlanta and Dallas-Fort Worth hubs. ASA picked up plane No. 40 on Thursday morning. The plane's inaugural flight went through customs in Burlington, Vt., and stopped briefly in Augusta before heading to Macon for an FAA systems check prior to entering commercial service. The remaining 17 will be picked up at a rate of one per month through 2003. In July, ASA and Comair, both wholly owned subsidiaries of Delta Air Lines, combined to place the largest airplane order in aviation history -- more than 500 planes by 2010.

Increased traffic demands and limited space at airports such as LaGuardia, Dulles, Atlanta and Chicago, along with the relatively low costs and operational flexibility, made the regional jets irresistible to airlines in South Africa, Spain, Germany, Canada, Britain, and Japan. All of this activity has created a $23 billion backlog in regional jet orders, said Colin Fisher, spokesman for Bombardier.

The first of the 50-seat jets entered the commercial airline industry with Lufthansa in November 1992. Two rear-mounted General Electric turbo fan engines power the 50-seat regional jet, producing 9,220 pounds of takeoff thrust. The jets can cruise at 0.81 Mach speed (534 miles per hour) and travel up to 2,000 nautical miles. They use 325 gallons of fuel per hour.

By comparison, the ATR-72 seats 16 more people. Also known as the turboprop plane, it is powered by wing-mounted Pratt & Whitney turbo propeller engines. But they can travel only 1,145 nautical miles at a cruising speed of 322 miles per hour. They use about 400 gallons of fuel per hour.

It takes about an hour to fly via turboprop from Augusta to Atlanta, a distance of 130 miles. In the same amount of time, a regional jet can fly from Augusta to Cincinnati, a distance of 500 miles.

Already, airlines have placed purchase orders with Bombardier for the planned CRJ-900 series, an 86-seat regional jet still in prototype stage. The first delivery is scheduled for 2003. "There has been very strong growth in the regional aircraft industry, really, for quite a number of years," Mr. Fisher said. "We have more firm order planes on backlog right now than at any other time in our history, and driven by the need for these planes, there's no sign of that slowing down."

Source: Augusta Chronicle