SkyWest and Mesa Receive First E175s for United Express Operation

US major United Airlines is on track to debut its new Embraer E175 aircraft on routes from Chicago O’Hare from May this year after its first aircraft was handed over to regional partner SkyWest Airlines late last month. The aircraft will be operated by the regional affiliate under the United Express brand and will be configured in a 76-seat layout with 12 seats in United First, 16 seats in United Economy Plus and 48 seats in United Economy.

United will initially introduce the aircraft on its route between Chicago O’Hare and Ronald Reagan Washington National from May 17, 2014 before launching the aircraft on its Chicago O’Hare – Boston Logan International link two days later on May 19, 2014. It competes directly with American Airlines on both routes and jetBlue Airways on the Chicago – Boston city pair.

"At United, we are focused on modernizing our fleet, and we look forward to introducing the E175 to our United Express service. Compared to the 50-seat aircraft we are replacing, these aircraft provide a superior customer experience and are more fuel efficient," said Jim Compton, vice chairman and chief revenue officer, United. "With a large first class cabin, wider fuselage, and larger overhead bins, this aircraft brings an improved regional flying experience to our customers."

Although the United executive talks about the E175 replacing smaller 50-seat aircraft, namely the ERJ 145, it will initially replace similarly sized Bombardier CRJ700 airliners on its launch routes. The US carrier currently utilises a mix of mainline single-aisle Airbus A320 Family and Boeing Next-Generation 737s and larger 757-200s alongside the CRJ700s. United’s Shuttle America affiliate also serves the Chicago – Washington Reagan National market with E170s.

From June the aircraft will also be introduced on other routes from Chicago and will also make its debut at the airline's George Bush Intercontinental Airport hub in Houston. From June 5, 2014, the E175 will be introduced on the Chicago - Minneapolis route and then from June 15, 2014 on Chicago - Atlanta and on Houston - Atlanta and Houston - New Orleans. The subsequent day the Embraer will be utilised on Houston - Austin and from June 23, 2014 between Chicago and New York LaGuardia.

Some of this E175 deployment will be supported by Mesa Airlines which has also recently taken delivery of the first of its E175s for United Express operation. The regional carrier signed an agreement to extend an existing agreement with United Airlines to fly 20 Bombardier CRJ700s in September 2013 and at the same time formalised a deal to fly 30 E175s for the US major. The first of these is due to enter passenger service in June, most likely serving the new Houston-based operation of the type.

Significant orders for the E175s were placed by United Airlines and SkyWest Airlines last year. United initially placed an order for 30 E175s in April 2013 for operation by United Express from 2014 through to 2015. This deal also included options for 40 more aircraft which was formalised just a month later when a capacity purchase agreement was reached for SkyWest Airlines to operate 40 E175s under the United Express brand, also for delivery in 2014 and 2015.

The regional carrier also holds reconfirmable orders for an additional 60 aircraft subject to it being awarded Capacity Purchase Agreement (CPA) contracts with major US airline partners. The agreement between SkyWest and Embraer also includes options for another 100 E175s, taking the potential total order up to 200 aircraft, while a separate deal has seen SkyWest became the launch customer of the next generation E175-E2 aircraft, ordering 100 with 100 additional options, for deliveries beginning in 2020.

“Our customers tell us they value comfort and convenience in an in-flight experience,” said Jeff Foland, EVP of marketing, technology and strategy, United. “The addition of the E175 to the United Express fleet enables us to maintain and better serve our customers, particularly in regional and in high-frequency business markets, as we build a flyer-friendly airline.”

The partnership between Embraer and United dates back to the original placement of EMB-120 Brasilia turboprops with Continental Airlines in the 1980s. The airline, which was merged with United in 2010, was also the launch customer for the 50-seat ERJ 145, eventually acquiring 275 jets: the largest ERJ fleet in the world. There are already 38 E170s flying with United’s regional partner Shuttle America under the United Express brand.

SkyWest and its sister carrier ExpressJet Airlines also have a long standing relationship with the Brazilian manufacturer. Both were early customers for the EMB-120 Brasilia with more than 40 aircraft still flying in the SkyWest network, primarily in the western United States. ExpressJet Airlines operates 251 aircraft of the ERJ 145 family and is the largest ERJ operator in the world.

Richard Maslen

Richard Maslen has travelled across the globe to report on developments in the aviation sector as airlines and airports have continued to evolve and…