United evaluating E-Jet E2 for further 50-seater reductions

Updated with information on the Bombardier CS100

United Airlines is “looking at” the Embraer E-Jet E2 family for its mainline fleet, as part of its plan to further shrink its fleet of 50-seat regional jets.

“It’s something that we’re looking at, it is,” says John Rainey, chief financial officer of the Chicago-based carrier, in an interview with Flightglobal on 3 June. “We look at just about every type of airplane and the challenge we have right now is that we are too dependent on 50-seat RJs [regional jets].”

 

United has made significant strides in reducing its fleet of the small regional jets. It anticipates removing roughly 130 of them and replacing them with 82 Embraer 175s with 76 seats by the end of this year, its latest fleet plan shows.

However, United will still have 242 Bombardier CRJ200s and Embraer ERJ-145s in its fleet at the end of December compared to roughly 125 at its competitor Delta Air Lines.

The airline can only add another 35 E175s – it has firm orders for 48 – without replacing other large regional jets in its feeder fleet under the 255 cap on aircraft with 70 to 76 seats set by its pilots contract, based on end of 2015 numbers.

The cap on just 76-seat aircraft fleet will rise to 153 from 130 in 2016, allowing United to order 23 more large regional jets on top of its existing orderbook.

An order for the E190-E2 or E195-E2, or even a purchase of used E190s, would allow United to add another 70 76-seaters for 223 aircraft and make further reductions to its fleet of small jets. It could also order the Bombardier CS100 to unlock the additional large regional jets under the terms of the contract.

“We’re interested in it because, in our pilot clause, we have an ability for every five E190s we take – or for E2s as the case may be – we get four more E175s,” says Rainey. “That’s something that appeals to us.”

He cautions that the abundance of carriers that want to sell their E190 fleets “gives us pause on how aggressive we want to do something”.

Asked whether United has looked at the 20 Air Canada E190s that are coming on the market later this year, Rainey says that they have looked at them but declines to elaborate.

In October 2014, he said that the E190 was on the carrier's "radar" in its search for used aircraft types to acquire for its mainline fleet.

United is also adding additional small mainline narrowbodies, including up to 25 Airbus A319s that it is leasing from AerCap and two Boeing 737-700s that it purchased from Copa Airlines, to its fleet to aid in the replacement of 50-seat lift.

However, a gap remains between the E175s and the A319 with 128 seats and the 737-700 with 118 seats that an E190-sized aircraft could fill.

“In some of those [former 50-seater] markets the flying will go away all together, in some of those markets we will backfill it with mainline flying and some it will be the E175 and potentially the E190 as that fits kind of in between the E175 and the smaller [mainline] narrowbodies,” says Rainey.

United will not remove all of its 50-seat regional jets, he adds, emphasising that the fleet will remain just at a much lower number than the current level.