Articles like Barb Delollis’ yesterday remind me that I’ve been around aviation too long. Why? I remember when regional jets, specifically the 50 seat version, were cool. Yes, I actually said cool. The mighty 50-seat RJ catches a lot of grief, but that’s not all the fault of an airplane. Once upon a time, these aircraft replaced the even less popular turboprops like the early Dash 8s, Saabs, Brazilias and even the mighty Jetstream. They were looked upon as a great thing, cheers came from all around when the flying schedule was blessed with one of those fancy new regional jets. What happened?
Well, airline scheduling for one thing. You see, those RJs were faster, quieter, and smoother than the turboprops they replaced. All was well until the schedulers figured out that those RJs could fly much longer stage lengths than the props they replaced. RJs started appearing on routes like Raleigh to Austin, and Dallas to Greenville/Spartanburg. All of a sudden, things weren’t so great. Just because an airplane can fly a certain mission, doesn’t always mean that it should. Accommodations inside the cabin were more appropriate for the shorter flights the airplanes were originally intended to fly. It really didn’t take all that long for the 50 seat RJ to become woefully uncool.
In the end, I don’t think we were saved by a realization in the airline scheduling departments that these small jets are uncomfortable. We were saved by $100 per barrel oil and $3 per gallon jet fuel. Suddenly, those fleets of 50 seat jets became as uneconomical as they are uncomfortable. Airlines are now up-gauging where its appropriate, and I think that’s a great thing. But I’ll always remember when RJs were cool.
-MJ, August 12, 2014