By Robert Silk
When Bombardier launched its program in 2005 to build a small mainline
jet, it was betting that there would still
be a market for 100-to-130-seat aircraft,
even as airlines were generally eschewing
smaller mainline planes for bigger versions that carry 150 passengers or more.
Thirteen years later, when Delta takes
delivery in April of the first of 75 Bombardier CS100s it has on order, the Can-ada-based aircraft maker’s vision will get
its first test in North America.
Delta said it plans to use its CS100s on
routes it currently flies with 76-seat regional jets. With a standard layout that
includes 18.5-inch wide seats (about an
inch wider than the industry standard)
and more overhead space than a regional
plane, the upgauging is likely to be popular with passengers in search of comfort.
But the CS100, with its range of some
3,000 miles — enough to fly transcontinental — and fuel efficiency that Bombardier said is 20% better than other aircraft in its class, will also enable Delta to
fly mainline to a broader array of midsize
markets than it currently does.
“It’s all about more city pairs and
greater frequencies,” said Richard Abou-
lafia, an aircraft industry analyst with the
Fairfax, Va.-based Teal Group. He cited
as an example possible nonstop routes
from a place like Pensacola, Fla., to New
York. “You just have to be careful that the
new point-to-point service translates into
During the company’s earnings call in
July, Delta CEO Ed Bastian said the car-
rier plans to base its first CS100 at an as-
yet-unnamed New York-area airport.
Having a long-range, 100-seat jet will
open new market opportunities, Bastian
said. Last month, Bloomberg, citing an
internal company memo it had viewed,
reported that Delta was also likely to fly
the CS100 to Dallas, where it would compete for market share with locally based
Southwest and American.
Delta, however, hasn’t revealed any specific route plans for its CS100 fleet. The
carrier did not respond to requests for
comment for this report.
Delta is already an outlier when it
comes to the small mainline jets. Its fleet
currently includes 91 Boeing 717s outfitted with 110 seats.
American, United and Southwest don’t
focus on 100-to-120-seat planes. Their
fleets of Boeing 737-700s and Airbus
A319s typically carry 120 to 150 passengers.
Speaking last month at the Boyd
Group’s International Aviation Forecast
Summit in Las Vegas, United president
Scott Kirby expressed his airline’s sharp-
ly divergent view from Delta’s on small
mainline aircraft, saying that there isn’t
an economic or passenger experience ar-
gument for flying 100-seat planes.
“I would have a hard time giving the C
Series a passenger experience preference
to a 737,” he said.
Aboulafia said the devil is in the details.
Small mainline aircraft tend to cost more
per seat to fly than their larger cousins.
So even with the CS100’s strong fuel ef-
ficiency, operators need to be sure they
can generate the necessary fares and load
factors to make up for having fewer seats.
Still, aviation analyst Bob Mann of
R.W. Mann and Co. said that he thinks
Delta is onto something with its interest
in small mainline planes, especially since
regional airlines have raised salaries sub-
stantially over the past two years to coun-
ter a growing pilot shortage.
“Basically, if you want to make money
in smaller domestic and short interna-
tional mainline markets, use an efficient
100-seat jet,” Mann said. “With regional
wages having risen so substantially, there
is no longer significant labor arbitrage
between 76-seat top of regional and 100-
seat mainline trip costs” on a per-seat ba-
Delta plans to try a smaller mainline aircraft on for size
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The Bombardier CS100, with
its transcontinental range
and wider seats, will be used
on routes normally flown by
76-seat regional jets.