Delta’s Regional Makeover Plan is Nearly Complete

When Delta first announced plans to completely remake its regional fleet, I figured it would take a fair amount of time for it to happen. After all, the airline needed to get rid of more than 200 airplanes while adding about 150 more. Boy, was I wrong. It’s just about done.

I put together a graphic showing what’s happening. This compares where we were at the end of the first quarter 2012 versus where we will be when it’s all done in the next couple years.

Delta Regional Makeover

Remember, while the plan is in place, this isn’t actually happening overnight. It will take a couple years. Still, the plan is now set, so let’s talk about it.

The 50-Seaters
As you can see, the 50-seat category is the one taking the biggest beating. Comair was shut down so its 30 CRJ-200s are being retired. Pinnacle is in bankruptcy, and Delta has decided that all 140 of the CRJ-200s that it’s operating will go away as well. Meanwhile, SkyWest (including subsidiary ExpressJet) has agreed to cut 66 of its CRJ-200s out.

That leaves 90 of the airplanes with SkyWest. Republic-owned Chautauqua, meanwhile, was at 24 ERJ-145s but has agreed to operate 7 more at least for the next year. So at most, there are a mere 121 50-seaters under contract. That’s incredible, and it’s lower than the 125 that Delta had as its hard ceiling.

The 70-Seaters
The number of 70-seat aircraft in the Delta Connection fleet hasn’t changed but the operators have. When Comair was shut down, 5 of its CRJ-700s were given to SkyWest while 10 were given to GoJet. Meanwhile, GoJet had finished picking up 6 more from SkyWest to get to its steady 22 airplanes along with 6 at sister-airline Compass. That left SkyWest with 60 of the airplanes. Republic-owned Shuttle America rounds out the fleet with 14 EMB-170s. That’s a total of 102.

The 76-Seaters
In the 76-seat range, there are growth plans, but there is also some shifting. Comair’s 13 airplanes plus 16 from Pinnacle were given to SkyWest, most likely to give SkyWest incentive to go ahead and ditch those 66 50-seaters. Meanwhile, Shuttle America stayed steady with 16 EMB-175s while Compass had 36.

Pinnacle saw the greatest change. After losing 16 airplanes to SkyWest, Pinnacle had 41 CRJ-900s in its fleet. Delta has now decided to give an additional 40 CRJ-900s to Pinnacle as part of its growth plan. Pinnacle will now solely be a CRJ-900 operator with 81 total.

That leaves Delta with 193 airplanes in this category, but it has the right to go up to 223 after it adds its last 717 to the mainline fleet. So who will get the last 30? Well, along with that order for 40 CRJ-900s, Delta secured 30 options. I assume that at some point those will be exercised and assigned to one of the remaining four regionals – SkyWest/ExpressJet, Shuttle America, Pinnacle, or GoJet/Compass.

The 110-Seaters
Lastly, we have the new 110-seat category. It was Delta’s deal to buy 88 of these airplanes from Southwest that triggered all these other shifts. Those will start coming in next year and deliveries will take a couple of years. Delta had no airplanes in this category before, but now it will operate 88.

What Does This Mean?
When this is all said and done, things will look much better for travelers. The 50-seaters are small and cramped, and lack amenities that even the slightly bigger aircraft will have. For example, the 50-seaters are all coach. The 70+ seat aircraft will have coach, Economy Comfort (more legroom), and First Class. Oh, and they’ll all have wifi too.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for the 50-seaters. Some communities and routes are going to need airplanes that size, but it’s not nearly as many as airlines originally thought. Most airlines would rather go bigger, and Delta has done that by ordering more CRJ-900s for its regionals.

Now I’ll admit that from a passenger perspective, I was bummed to see Delta grow with CRJ-900s. The Embraer 175s have wider and more comfortable cabins. But I have no doubt that Delta got a screaming deal on those airplanes and money talks.

Personally, I’m most excited about the addition of the 717s. That’s partially because they were built in my backyard here in Long Beach, but I actually do like flying on those airplanes. I certainly like them a LOT more than regional jets.

What’s really interesting is that this change isn’t just impacting Delta. United’s pilots agreed to a very similar deal which will see United remake its fleet as well. And while American is a bit in flux still, it’s expected that we’ll see a similar type of deal no matter whether there’s a merger or not.

The downside is, of course, that with fewer small airplanes, small cities will take a hit. If they’re lucky, they’ll have fewer flights but on bigger airplanes. If they aren’t, they’ll lose a lot of service. We’ll have to see how this all shakes out.

But overall, this is a good thing for travelers. And the speed with which is all shook out is pretty amazing.

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