1. Turbine Triumph:
The power of engines, as historically demonstrated, extends beyond the thrust they produce to move airplanes. They also move passenger-toward a particular aircraft, when it is powered by the type that attracts them.
When the first long-range, pure-jet airliners appeared at the end of the 1950w in the form of the de Havilland DH.106 Comet, the Boeing 707, and the Douglas DC-8, it was concluded that this technology would be restricted to those sectors, since its speed could not be adequately exploited over shorter ones, leaving them the domain of piston aircraft, such as the Convair CV-440 Metropolitan and the Martin 4-0-4.
What was underestimated was the power the pure-turbine had to draw passengers to such airplanes, causing them to demand and ultimately expect this engine type on all route types. And manufacturers responded.
By the early-1990s, history repeated itself. The turbine, it was thought, could never be economically viable on regional-range routes, once again leaving the piston and later turboprop airliners with capacities of between 19 and 50 to serve them. But, when Canadair sparked the regional jet revolution with its 50-passenger CRJ-100 and Embraer closely followed suit with its own ERJ-145, there seemed no market for which the turbofan was not suitable-except, perhaps, for the very thin one, supporting no more than 30 seats.
Passengers again responded. And consensus was once again proven wrong.
2. Regional Jet Revolution:
Although powerplants usually precede designs, in the case of the regional market, designs preceded powerplants and provided the crossroads between larger airliners, business jets, and turboprop aircraft. Regional jets could thus originate from four potential sources.
The first, as previously mentioned, trace their roots to business jets-in this case, to the Canadair CL-600/-601 Challenger, which bred the stretched-fuselage regional airliners that followed it. In the second case, Embraer adopted the twin-turboprop EMB-120 Brasilia into a pure-jet counterpart, the ERJ-145. In the third, an existing airliner, intended for longer-range sectors, was scaled-down to produce a lower-capacity derivative, as had occurred with the MD-95/717, a shrink of the MD-90, and the A-318, a shorter-fuselage version of the A-319. Finally, regional jets originate as all-new designs, such as the Vereinigte Flugtechnische Werke VFW-614, the western world's first 44-seat regional jet; the Fokker F.28 Fellowship, which was succeeded by the modernized F.70 and F.100; and the British Aerospace BAe-146, which itself begot the re-engined Avro International RJ70 to -100 family.
All of these types fueled the regional jet revolution, which created a fundamental change in the market, mirroring the impact the pure-jet engine first had on the long, then medium-, and finally short-range routes, and blurring the line between the major and regional carriers. It also became the most rapidly growing segment of the industry.
According to the Department of Transportation (DOT) report entitled "Regional Jets and their Emerging Roles in the US Aviation Market," seven US carriers operated 99 regional jets between 126 city pairs and served 103 markets from ten hubs at the beginning of 1998. The domestic regional jet fleet at the time was expected to double, to 200 aircraft, by January of the following year.
And these figures only escalated like the clockwise rotations of analog altimeters installed in climbing aircraft. Indeed, in order to remain competitive and retain market share, airlines were forced to order regional jets. Almost 80 percent of the 570 regional airliners ordered in 1998 were for pure-jets, eclipsing, for the first time, the number of turboprop deliveries the following year with 217 jets as opposed to 120 turboprops. By 2000, 726 regional jet sales were recorded, a 42-percent increase over the year-earlier period and it constituted more than 90 percent of all regional airliners ordered. The diminishing popularity of turboprop types, resulting in a 28-year low in sales, saw the sunset on once ubiquitous models, such as the British Aerospace J41 and the Saab 340 and 2000.
These sales figures, however, reflected more than passenger popularity. Compared to heavier twins, such as earlier BAC-111s and DC-9s-which had not been designed for regional routes, but which were artificially suited for some of them because of then significantly lower fuel prices-aircraft intended, from inception, for this purpose, offered two advantages: their lower structural weights burned less fuel and were rewarded with reduced landing fees, and their decreased thrust capabilities optimized them for lower cruise speeds, since a greater portion of regional flight sectors entail the climb and descent phase than do longer ones.
Barry Eccleston, Executive Vice President of Fairchild-Dornier Aerospace, predicted that the market for regional jets accommodating a maximum of 110 passengers would be worth some $205 billion, amounting to 9,000 aircraft, over the first two decades of the 21st century-or more than two-thirds the $280 billion-worth of ultra large capacity airlines, such as the Boeing 747-8 and the Airbus A-380-except that the regional segment of the industry represented seven times the number of airplanes. He also identified four phases of the regional jet revolution.
The first, entailing the initial breed of 50-seat Canadair CRJ-100s and -200s and Embraer ERJ-145s served to prove the concept, attract the passengers, and demonstrate the economic feasibility of it, its roots planted by Comair in the US and Lufthansa CityLine in Europe. The former initially provided feed to major carrier hubs and the latter bypassed them and instead served short and/or thin sectors between secondary city pairs.
Paving the way by demonstrating the overwhelming passenger acceptance of these aircraft, the 50-seat regional jet planted the seed for the second phase, establishing the seamless service interchange between mainline and microjets and creating demand for pure-jet service on routes even too thin for the 50-seaters. Scaled-down for accommodation of between 30 and 40, these types could altogether replace the comparably sized turboprops, especially since a design such as the ERJ-135, although a smaller derivative of the original -145, was itself a development of the Brasilia turboprop.
Like a rolling snowball, once the concept gained momentum, it was unstoppable and increased in size. So, too, did the aircraft representing the third phase, which offered capacities not unlike the traditional short- to medium-range twins, but at decidedly lower seat-mile costs. Examples of these were the Fokker F.28 Fellowship, the British Aerospace BAe-146, the Fokker F.70 and F.100, the Avro International RJ70 to -100, the Bombardier CRJ-700 to -1000, the Embraer ERJ-170 to -195, the Antonov An-148 and -158, the Sukhoi Superjet 100, and the Bombardier CS-100.
Regional jets accommodating 100 passengers, but flown by major carrier crews because of pilot scope clauses prohibiting their operation characterized the fourth phase.
Closing the gap between major and regional airline profiles, this type of operation entailed the replacement of first generation twins, such as DC-9s and 737s, with their advanced, higher-capacity regional counterparts, yet offered comparable levels of comfort, service, and speed on thinner, point-to-point, hub-bypassing sectors-in the process reducing airport congestion.
Integral to this quad-phase regional jet revolution-and particularly to the second of them-was, of course, the 37-seat Embraer ERJ-135. But, before it even flew, it had competitio