A little over a decade ago, aircraft deployment was clearly defined by airline business models and market profiles. While full-service carriers used to operate 120-plus seats in high volume city pairs and Regionals with 50-seat regional jets and turboprops on lower demand routes, low-cost carriers used to derive their strength from a single aircraft fleet type.

In 2004 Embraer removed the barriers that used to define airline business models. The company blurred the lines that formerly separated the unique selling points of full-service carriers, regionals and LCCs and signaled the renaissance of a new category of single-aisle aircraft.

The E-Jets did not inaugurate the segment — Airbus, Boeing, Bombardier, Fokker and McDonnell Douglas all offered aircraft with the same seat capacity. However, the Brazilian aircraft manufacturer was the first OEM to come up with a family of aircraft optimized for the segment, a movement recently followed by Bombardier’s CSeries and endorsed by Airbus’s planned tie-up with the program.

Aircraft like the E2 and the CSeries combine high-valued features required by mainline operations with the capability of a right-sized aircraft, providing flexibility across all business models.

A distinct category of aircraft is, therefore, being consolidated in the market: the crossover narrowbody jet.

Bridging a gap in the market

This crossover narrowbody jets category comprises aircraft with seating between 70 and 150, bridging a gap in the market between the higher end of regional aircraft and the lower end of mainline narrow-body aircraft.

These aircraft are optimized to deliver profitability per seat through right pricing and competitive cost structure, tapping the acute equipment gap created by the unavailability of efficient aircraft in the segment for several years.

The market pathfinder

The crossover narrowbody jet segment offers tailored solutions for airlines’ fleet and network optimization without compromising performance and passenger comfort.

Its versatility is put to full use worldwide, feeding complex bank structures or pioneering new markets in point-to-point operation where a conventional narrow-body aircraft could only be deployed on a low-frequency basis — if at all.

The segment is critical to the routing strategy in the US. Some 40% of all connecting passengers in the country land in a crossover narrowbody jet at a major hub before flying the second sector. Flights to Frankfurt via Chicago O’Hare, to São Paulo via Houston and to Tokyo Narita via Detroit have nearly half of the seats filled with passengers flying the previous leg of their journey in a crossover narrowbody jet.

Beyond inter-connectivity in hub-and-spoke networks, the segment also makes the perfect fit in point-to-point operations to strengthen airlines’ presence in high-yield markets and to expand airline operation in low and mid-density routes.

Crossover narrowbody jet offer the appropriate service level between markets like New York and Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco, London and Dublin, Sydney and Melbourne, to name but a few. When choosing an airline, business travelers value schedule above all else, a convenience that cannot be provided exclusively by large-capacity narrow-body aircraft.

In most emerging economies, the airline industry revolves around the main capital cities and airport hubs. Delhi and Mumbai hold 60% of the domestic capacity offered by Indian carriers. Flights to and from Moscow represent 55% of the capacity deployed in the CIS region. Bangkok, Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur, account for 45% of all seats offered in Asean.

Crossover narrowbody jets offer a new strategic mindset to seek out untapped opportunities to explore low and mid-density markets currently underserved, or not served at all. As secondary and tertiary cities are poised to lead the demand for new air travel, the segment is ready to embrace this growth momentum and continue to bridge the current travel gap between regional aircraft and mainline narrow-body operation.

While cost remains a key competitive factor, it is no longer the sole driver to sustain a solid financial performance. Return on capital employed will be even more widely used. Not only revenue management strategies, but also airline assets (fleet, network) need to be optimized in order to get the most out of yields and generate higher returns.

The crossover narrowbody jets concept makes the perfect complementary fit for most market profiles, contributing not just to the airline’s profits but to the actual returns on investment. Market demand does not and will not warrant a structural shift upwards towards large narrow-bodies across the board: one size simply does not fit all, and a rationalized fleet does not necessarily signify an optimized one.