United Airlines adds more Embraer E175s as Bombardier CRJ550 fleet expands
United Express partner Mesa Airlines will operate the 20 E175s, which will be delivered in a 70-seat layout, the Phoenix-based regional carrier said Tuesday. Deliveries will occur from May through the end of next year.
The E175s will one-for-one replace 20 older Bombardier CRJ700 regional jets operated by Mesa. Those jets will be sub-leased to "another United Express carrier," which Raymond James analysts said Tuesday is understood to be GoJet Airlines. The analysts expect the CRJ700s to be converted to CRJ550s that in a 50-seat layout with 10 first-class seats that TPG's Zach Griff has described as "the most comfortable regional jet in America."
United introduced the CRJ550 in October. Debuted on flights from the airline's Chicago O'Hare (ORD) hub, the jets are part of an effort to retain high-revenue premium travelers while keeping its regional fleet in compliance with restrictions in its contract with pilots.
United's pilots contract limits it to 255 larger regional jets, or those outfitted with 70-76 seats and first-class cabins. Executives often say that the airline is at a competitive disadvantage due to this restriction as the contracts at its competitors American Airlines and Delta Air Lines allow them to fly up to roughly 325 of the jets.
Those larger jets, including E175s, are more popular with passengers than 50-seat models due to their typically larger cabins, amenities like inflight Wi-Fi, and the fact that most bags can be carried onboard.
The CRJ550 is a workaround to these contractual limits on large regional jets at United. The planes will begin flying from its Newark Liberty (EWR) hub in February, and Washington Dulles (IAD) in March, according to Cirium schedules. United also plans to use the jets on the shuttle-like service between Newark and Washington National (DCA) that it plans to launch next spring.
United anticipates 54 CRJ550s in its regional fleet by the end of next year.
With the latest deal, Mesa will exclusively operate E175s for United with a fleet of 80 aircraft expected by end-2020.
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