Delta’s Regional Makeover Plan is Nearly Complete

Delta, ExpressJet, Republic, SkyWest

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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28 comments on “Delta’s Regional Makeover Plan is Nearly Complete

  1. Cranky, couldn’t Skywest provide those extra 30 jets for Delta when it gets its brand new MRJ-90’s? Or will all the 717’s, and therefore the extra 76 seaters, all be in house long before those arrive?

    1. Delta already has options for 30 CRJ900s an SkyWests MRJ90s won’t be delivered until at least 2 years after Delta plans to receive the last 717 and gain access to the last 76-seater.

    2. Yeah I’m a bit confused about SkyWest going for the larger MRJ90’s. Maybe the plan is to outfit them at 76 seats including domestic F and E+. That way any of the majors could take it under their scope clauses. What I read though is that SkyWest (and TransStates) doesn’t have to firm up which type until around 2015.

      But yeah DL is just amazing. Unbelievable speed and efficiency in getting those 50 seaters out.

    3. Ben – As mentioned, the MRJs will come well after this is done. But by then, the older CRJ-900s might be getting long in the tooth. There’s nothing suggesting that Delta can’t start replacing older ones with MRJs in 3 cabin config with 76 seats if it wants. But the order doesn’t seem to be on behalf of any particular airline (or not announced yet).

  2. I know the 50 seaters are on their way out either way, but I wonder if the supposed pilot shortage is influencing this plan at all. Bigger planes means more seats with fewer pilots.

    1. Joel – The pilot shortage doesn’t factor into this. As far as I know, it’s still all talk (and has been expected for years and years without it actually happening).

  3. Funny how 50-seat jets were all the rage and everyone wanted them since there were the greatest thing. Now no one wants them unless they have to have them it seems.

    Shows how quickly things can be effect by changes in other areas a.k.a fuel prices, etc.

  4. This certainly appears to be the wave of the future for all carriers. It also leaves one wondering about the fate of the Air Wisconsins and Mesas of the airline world.

    If the predicted pilot shortage materializes, this strategy may also provide a solution to that problem.

    While service to small towns may suffer, things may get better overall for the industry and small towns if everyone works together to develop a sustainable business and service model.

    1. Looks like the only 50 seaters left in Mesa’s fleet are flying as Go! in Hawaii. Their United Express operation is all CRJ-700s, and US Airways Express operation is all CRJ-900s. I know SkyWest took over the PHX-based CRJ-200 and Dash 8 flying for US with their own CRJ-200s.

      Air Wisconsin would be in trouble if US Airways starts cutting 50-seat flying, as their fleet is completely CRJ-200 and flying only for US.

      1. I’m aware of all of that. My point was about the future of smaller regional operators (and a few large ones like Eagle) generally. I don’t see many of them surviving long term. Sorry if I was unclear.

    2. First, I’d say that the 50 seaters aren’t going to go away completely. There are just too many of them right now. There’s nothing saying that Air Wisconsin can’t keep operating them. In fact, it may have opportunity at a new American post-merger with US. But certainly the littler guys are getting pushed out. My guess is that Air Wisconsin and Mesa either get bought eventually or just become ancillary service providers. (Air Wisconsin would keep ground handling, for example.)

  5. Any idea where the 717’s will be flying? Unfortunately I’m often on routes with CRJ-900’s and E175’s – any hope they would be upgraded to the 717?

    Over the summer I made some trips to SEA and SLC and was spoiled to fly in 757’s and 767’s. I travel roughly 30-40 segments a year and 99% of that is not on mainline metal. Anything that puts me in a bigger cabin is welcome news.

    1. A – I haven’t heard anything specific about 717 routes, but they will take over DC-9 routes. That means a lot of shorter Atlanta stuff. I’d be we also see it in LaGuardia.

  6. Cranky, the planes in the “70 seater” category are actually a little bit smaller with Delta’s 2-class configuration. The CRJ-700 has 65 seats and the EMB-170 has 69 seats.

    1. Bravenav – Fair enough – I’m just using the pilot contract language, but yeah, my seat counts might be a bit off.

  7. I wonder where all the old CRJ-200’s will go? Sounds like someone should be able to snap them up cheap!

    1. Rob Bohn – And if they’re cheap enough, that makes it more attractive to everyone to get more of them again! Some will come through jockeying for position – for example SkyWest placed some ex-Delta airplanes with American now that American is opening Eagle up.

  8. Its amazing to watch DL lead. They’re becomming the AA of this phase of the business’s evolution.

    I am a bit bummed to see the CRJ900s though.. I’m quite an Embrarer fan…

  9. I did not see this mentioned but this type change will have some positive impact on reducing overall air traffic congestion. A 50 seat aircraft takes up as much protective airspace as a 737.

  10. I heard Pinnacle has a new pilot TA that has yet to I to membership for ratification. If true, are their planes contingent on getting a labor agreement?

      1. I really struggle to see this working well long-term for Pinnacle. Halving the number of crews while forcing pay cuts takes away the two things that compel an FO (or downgraded CA) to stay at an airline: the possibility of upgrade and reasonable pay while waiting for it. They’re effectively doubling the concentration of “lifers”, making available Captain seats that much rarer. They’ll have enormous attrition on the bottom of their seniority list which will eventually lead to high training costs and an inability to staff. The lower the top FO pay gets, the lower is the cost barrier preventing someone from jumping to SkyWest or another regional. Isn’t this pretty much what happen with Mesa?

    1. Yes the 120s are still flying for Delta but they are slowly being phased out as they age. Those aren’t really a part of the long term plan but Delta can continue to have those or any other small prop for as long as it wants.

  11. So will Eugene OR see larger aircraft? We already have daily CRJ 900/700 service to salt lake city via skywest. The 717 would sure make traveling much better from EUG!

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