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  • The pandemic return of flying around the world increasingly favors single-aisle aircraft while regional airlines and their aircraft operations stagnate.
  • Turboprop flying lags the recovery of other aircraft, due in large part to slower returns in Southeast Asia and Europe.
  • Once matching the robust single-aisle recovery, regional jet flying has plateaued with a pilot and business passenger shortage, presenting new challenges for the U.S.-centric market.

Before the airline industry exited the cataclysm of March 2020, TAC Analysis put down a key marker to follow: Regional carriers would play a crucial role in the recovery for an industry that once barely registered a heartbeat. That was indeed the case. With the evaporation of 97% of passengers within a week, the large system built to efficiently move a traveling population was no longer needed. A finely tuned aviation system ground to a near-halt. 

Reliance on the world’s regional aircraft fleet increased as networks and communities looked to maintain a connection to the aviation system, even if the volume of passengers was a small fraction of the previous month’s numbers. This intuitive response highlighted the early days in the pandemic as airlines sought to reduce costs and park airplanes while maintaining some semblance of a network.

Read: Making sense of the post-pandemic role of regional aircraft

Approaching two years since that collapse, people are flying again at ever-greater numbers even as new coronavirus variants like Omicron force cases to fresh all-time highs. Yet, November 2021 marked a distinct shift in how the recovery is coalescing – regional aircraft are no longer participating in the increased flying.

Today, the same intuition that initially drove the networks to preserve breadth – the points on route maps – through flying smaller aircraft has shown a recent shift away from the regional aircraft. The recent new trend signals a potential change for the regional aircraft industry, and for the small communities that rely on a connection to the world’s aviation system.

Read: The last leg of the U.S. airline recovery is going to be the hardest

This latest TAC Analysis dives into the abrupt change in the global regional aircraft market, what it means for the various small airliners, and how it may impact the commercial airline landscape going forward. For an industry growing back into its own footprint, the shift to a focus on scale, and the profitability it brings, could have a profound impact on the future of regional aviation.

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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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