In years past, pilots' unions in the U.S. agreed to loosen scope clauses only under pressure, either when their airline was in dire financial straits or in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, allowing carriers to void union contracts with judicial approval if the pilots failed to make enough concessions. That is how the relaxation to allow 76-seat aircraft—up from a 50-seat cap—started, when Northwest Airlines used its bankruptcy court leverage to force that change.
More recently, however, some pilots' unions have given ground on outsourced flying for larger aircraft in exchange for a new cap on the overall number of regional jets or other “sweeteners,” such as a guaranteed ratio between mainline and regional carrier operations. That is a tradeoff the airlines are willing to make because they are eager to unload their 50-seat regional jets and replace them with the larger-capacity aircraft.
Airlines also can use pay increases or other benefit or work rule improvements to try to win concessions from the unions on scope.
SkyWest currently is planning to operate the MRJ90 in a 76-seat, two-class configuration to comply with scope clause restrictions on seating capacity for outsourced flying. But the airline retains the option to convert its order to the smaller MRJ70, and SkyWest CFO Michael Kraupp says Mitsubishi will need to “thin” the MRJ90 to certify it at a lower MTOW.
“This is an open item and we will have to see how things develop with scope clauses over the next four years,” Kraupp adds.
As for the E175-E2 order, Kraupp reveals only that “we sought the protections we believe were necessary to address the issue.” He will not provide more details.
St. Louis-based Trans States Airlines, which has placed an order for 50 MRJ90 aircraft with 50 options, did not respond to a request for comment.
Yugo Fukuhara, Mitsubishi Aircraft's marketing director, says it will use “paperwork changes” to overcome the union contract restrictions. The Japanese manufacturer initially will certify the aircraft to their highest MTOW, which exceeds those restrictions, but then plans to recertify the aircraft to the MTOW limits that apply to each customer, he explains. The launch customer for the MRJ90 is All Nippon Airways.
Embraer's strategy is different. The Brazilian manufacturer, which notes that weight increases are typical for many newer-generation aircraft because of their heavier, new-technology engines, says it “believes that major carrier airlines in North America will be able to negotiate new contracts with their pilots unions to allow them to operate higher weight, but much more economical, aircraft in their fleets.”