Between 1980 and 2009, the number of regional carriers declined 75%. Yet those which remained grew much larger; 2,334% more ASMs and 985% more enplanements. The average seats per flight grew from 16 to 55 as carriers switched from small turboprops to regional jets.
As veteran industry analyst Bill Swelbar explains “The numbers reflect jet aircraft technology vs turboprops and the resulting aircraft productivity. Flying longer and faster. There were relatively few RJs in 1995, with meaningful growth of RJs in last couple of years of decade. Scope clauses were really relaxed between 2000 – 2005 permitting not only virtually unlimited 50 seat flying but also permitting the limited use of 70 seat jets. Most of the growth spike came in the 1998 – 2005/6 period.”
Looking at the first half of 2010, the trends continued. Enplanements, ASMs and RPMs are just over 50% of the previous year numbers, implying growth. Note also the slight growth in airplane size continued, rising from 55 seats to 56.
Regional airlines are frequently overlooked by analysts who get caught up with stories about the larger airlines. Yet RAAs member airlines carry one in four of US airline enplanements. Moreover, 72% of US communities rely exclusively on regional airlines for all scheduled air service.
“Regionals” (as these airlines are also known) are doing longer haul flying, too. Note average trip length has grown nearly 255% to 457 miles. Compare this with mainline airlines at 1,279 miles and 770 miles among LCCs.
We suggest that regional airlines deserve a bit more respect and attention. This is a major component of the industry and operates under the same trying conditions as the majors.