by Michael Lowrey
OK, now look at the information in the previous post. Notice all those flights on Boeing 737-300s and -400s. Those are old aircraft, dating back to 1991 or earlier (-300s are generally older than the -400s). US Airways has plans in place to replace all those 737s over the next three year. The remaining seven 737-300 and seven 737-400s retiring this year and being replaced by 12 Airbus A321s.
But that’s only part of the story. US Airways current has no replacement plan for its regional fleet. And yes there are some issues: The 37-seat DHC-100 turboprops are old with some nearing the end of their service lives. US Airway’s 50-seat regional jet fleet includes a bunch of aircraft operated by Air Wisconsin under an agreement that’s up for renewal in 2015. US Airways has said that they would like to replace some of their 50-seaters with larger aircraft.
The big hangup with addressing the regional fleet is the airline’s unresolved contract situation with its own pilots. The interim agreement allows the airline’s regional associates to operate only 110 large regional jets on US Airway’s behalf. The only way to get that number increased is a new agreement. Good luck with that.
So for now, US Airways has decided to kick the can down the road a bit. During their quarterly earnings conference call, they announced that they were reacquiring five 99-seat Embraer 190s. The E190s are treated a bit oddly in the interim agreement — the are flown by US Airways mainline pilots but don’t count toward the minimum mainline fleet size in the contract. US Airways is currently at the minimum mainline fleet count, so the E190s represent one of the few ways for the airline to cut capacity. Which they did a few years back, selling 10 of their 25 E190s to Republic’s Frontier unit. As Frontier continues to struggle, Republic is now selling five of them back to US Airways, allowing US Airways to retire some older regional capacity (presumably old DHC-100s).
US Airways could presumably also buy back the other five E190s that Frontier currently operates but beyond that it faces a more difficult decision on what to about its regional flying. To make matters worse, Delta has upped the ante with an agreement to replace 218 50-seat regional jets with 70 mainline Boeing 717s and 70 large regional jets. If US Airways doesn’t merge with American Airlines, something has happen, not necessarily immediately, but certainly in the next two or three years. And that more than anything else will put pressure on US Airways to resolve the pilots contract issue, with a likely gramework being an increase in mainline flying in exchange for allowing regional partners to fly more large regional jets.