February 25, 2013
Credit: George Hamlin
Andrew Compart Washington
It had to happen sometime. The parting out of Embraer ERJ 145 aircraft has begun. But the bigger question for the industry is what happens next, particularly whether Rolls-Royce's policy for maintenance of the 50-seat twinjet's engines will accelerate retirements for the rest of the fleet.
The first ERJ 145s to be disassembled (aside from one previous dismantling of a prototype) are very young. Operated by Mesa Air Group until its bankruptcy-court supervised restructuring in 2010, they were acquired by Muskegon, Mich.-based Aerovision last year. All but two of the aircraft were built in 2001 and the oldest in 2000. Nonetheless, Aerovision parted out five of them and just started disassembling a sixth. It is preparing the other four to be sold or leased—assuming it can find an operator to acquire them.
The market is tough for all 50-seat regional jets (RJs), which means Bombardier CRJs and well as ERJs. High fuel prices have made them unprofitable on many routes, especially in the U.S. market, where they had been the most popular.
About 100 CRJ100s, 200s and 440s (a 44-seat variant) have been retired since 2003, more than 60 of those in the past three years, shows an analysis using the Aviation Week Intelligence Network Fleet database. And more than 100 were in storage at the end of 2012, about twice as much as the ERJ 145.
In part, that is because CRJs fell victim to more airline bankruptcies, restructurings and liquidations than ERJs. But that distinction will blur in coming years, as U.S. carriers sometimes seem to be in a race to drop the 50-seaters from their operating fleets. U.S.-based American Eagle is still operating nearly 180 ERJ 140s and 145s, but the assumption is that the airline in the next few years will start to get rid of them.
Once the ERJs start dropping out of fleets in greater numbers, they could be more difficult for marketers to place than CRJs. It would not be for lack of effort. For example, Embraer's ECC Leasing subsidiary recognizes what is coming and is promoting the parent company's used jets in markets such as Russia and Africa.
Airstream International Group, a used RJ seller and lessor in Surrey, England, sold five ERJ 145s to new operators in the past 12 months, so there are some takers. But Managing Director Peter Crutchfield describes the current market for 50-seaters as “soft” and ascribes a particular challenge to the ERJ 145 because of its Rolls-Royce powerplants.