Today’s airline just like yesterday’s, only different

It’s become more and more clear that airlines are going to likely have 3 or 4 basic categories of aircraft.  First, the 100 to 135 seat category with a range that isn’t transcontinental but which allows a full load fly 3 to 3.5 hours maximum. 

Second, the 150 to 210 category with a range that will include trans-continental routes.  This was previously served by the 757 and 767 but has seen today’s 737 and Airbus 320 families take over. 

Third, the 220 to 280 seat arena which includes flights ranging from trans-continental to trans-oceanic including both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.  We’ve seen the Airbus A330 and 767 and even the 777 in this area and that’ll continue for a bit longer too.  But it will be owned by the 787, 777 and A350 soon enough.

Finally, the very large aircraft on trunk routes that demand high capacity and high-ish frequency.  The 777-300ER, 747 (-400 and -8i) and A380 are the players here.  In the future, we’ll see more of the 777-300ER and A380 than the 747-8i and I think Boeing will have to come up with an aircraft that fits this area better both in economies as well as seat range. 

Nothing much has changed except that the models from Boeing and Airbus are getting freshened or replaced and their ceding the 100 to 135 seat market to Bombardier and Embraer.  The regional jet manufacturers are invading Boeing and Airbus territory and that’s brought along an interesting development. 

We can ignore the Comac efforts to date.  Their plans for a 150+ seat aircraft are just that, in my opinion, plans.  You don’t enter that arena without a lot of experience building something smaller and generally without experience being a partner on similar efforts for a while.  Those aircraft won’t fly, pun intended.

With a couple of exceptions, regional airlines are bringing those new 100 to 135 seat aircraft with them instead of that flying remaining with the majors.  Scope clauses continue to get revised to include larger aircraft and instead of major airlines adopting new equipment to serve those routes, they’re ceding that area largely to their regional airline partners.

The why involves what it always involves:  labor costs.  They can have it flown cheaper by someone else and earn more money.  As that scope increases, however, I do wonder why you would continue to contract that out to an independent airline instead of owning it and its revenue stream.  Why wouldn’t you want to vertically integrate and own that lower cost structure as well as control the service product?

Instead, we see SuperLegacies prepared to sell off their regional airlines and pretty cheaply at that.  Even new-ish ones with pretty low labor costs. 

At some point, these regional airlines are going to see that they can operate their own networks and while they may choose to remain partnered with majors, they’ll also see they can take on more of the risk and much more of the profit available. 

Yes, it’s been tried already a couple of times and while those efforts sputtered at the 50 seat jet level, they won’t necessarily sputter using 90 to 110 seat jets that are coming on line.  Republic may be the first to do it successfully by buying brands and working to build an integrated network while continuing to service partnerships with major airlines, time will tell.  If they are successful, will they one day leave their partnerships with the majors and become a force to content with on their own?

And where does that leave the SuperLegacies in the future?  Will they continue to walk away from the bottom end of flying when it comes to capacity?  Will they continue to cede that work to partner airlines while working to build their long haul flying?  Can they afford to cede that much control on what, today, feeds their networks for that long haul flying?

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