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Despite having nearly 500 narrowbody aircraft on order, United Airlines needs airplanes. With attention on a heated competition between Boeing and Airbus to replace an aging widebody fleet, United’s largest competitor, American Airlines, recently exposed a new gap in the airline’s domestic fleet.

American Airlines’ recent agreement with Air Wisconsin to transition 40 aircraft away from United leaves the airline short of replacement options. The combination of limited pilot supply and restrictive room in the pilot scope clause, suggests the airline will be increasingly pushed toward the E195-E2. Despite years of downplaying the need for the small narrowbody segment by United leadership, the accelerated exit of regional flying is highlighting renewed challenges by the airline to maintain network feed.

The shift in fleet dynamics at United is bolstered by the announcement that Air Wisconsin will leave United’s employ and return to American. Representing 40 aircraft currently operating for United at its Chicago O’Hare (ORD) hub, the aging Bombardier (now MHI RJ) CRJ200s will join American’s rival network at the very same airport.

Related: Pilot shortage solutions are plentiful but politically improbable

Yet, the effects of this most recent regional partnership reshuffling extend far beyond the dwindling 50-seat fleet. With pilot contract scope clauses limiting the available regional fleet and a national pilot shortage pushing aircraft capacities ever-larger, United’s available options are thinning, seemingly set to coalesce around Embraer’s E2. Similarly, Embraer’s E2 options are being increasingly limited to United, a mutual need destined to bring the two longtime partners closer.

This TAC Analysis dives deeper into the United fleet, considering both the aircraft and the competitive game board. Big aircraft orders in recent years have exposed a gap in the United fleet and a structural disadvantage in regional flying. We look closer at United and Embraer’s unique situations and why the E2 remains the best and most likely option to solve challenges for both.

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Courtney Miller is Managing Director of Analysis for The Air Current. Miller most recently spent 10-years with Bombardier Aerospace, serving as director, North America sales for the company’s commercial aircraft line and led airline marketing and analysis for the western hemisphere for airlines in North and South America and the community of global aircraft lessors. Miller is also founder of visualapproach.io, where he merged industry history and analysis with insightful and beautiful data visualization to illustrate contemporary trends. Miller is a 3,000-hour U.S. airline pilot and began his career flying for U.S. regional airline Comair. He holds a Masters of Aeronautical Science from Embry-Riddle University and a Bachelors of Science in Aviation Technology from Purdue University. He is based in the Dallas, Texas Metroplex.

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