Regional Airline Association Annual Convention

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By: Jack Harty

Last month, I had the opportunity to attend the annual Regional Airline Association convention in Cleveland, Ohio. Leading up to the event, I was quite excited to learn more about the regional airline industry and RAA.

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The Regional Airline Association (RAA) was founded in 1975, and it is a North America business association that represents regional airlines and their employees, regional airline aircraft manufacturers, and all of the suppliers. The association represents, lobbies, and supports its members before many government organizations such as the FAA, U.S. Congress, and the Department of Transportation.

RAA has more than two dozen airline members and about 150 other members. It’s a large undertaking to represent these companies, especially when more than 13,000 regional flights a day.

On its website, RAA’s mission states: “With safety as its highest priority, RAA represents North American regional airlines, and the manufacturers of products and services supporting the regional airline industry, before the Congress, DOT, FAA and other federal agencies. With more than 13,000 regional airline flights every day, regional airlines operate more than 50 per cent of the nation’s commercial schedule. Some 160 million passengers annually — more than one of every five domestic airline passengers — travel on regionals, and the more than 2,700 regional aircraft comprise about nearly 40 percent of the US commercial passenger fleet. Most notably, regional airlines serve 631 communities across the country and in 486 of those communities — 77 percent of the US – – regional airlines provide the only scheduled service.”

The regional airline industry is a very important component to the U.S. airline industry; without small regional jets, it would be extremely difficult for major airlines to sustain air service to smaller communities.

During the two day convention, I had the opportunity to walk around the exhibitor floor which includes manufacturers and all of the suppliers who support the regional airline industry. It was amazing to see all of the different companies who were represented and their products; for example, one company’s main focus is making and selling fire extinguishers and blankets to the regional airlines. Plus, there were airline uniform and maintenance companies, and there were several companies showing off some of the aircraft ground service equipment they sell.

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Another unique aspect of the conference is that RAA had “University Commons.” In this area of the show room, several universities were on hand to talk about different aviation programs to continue education or ways to partner. Embry-Riddle was represented, and dozens of alumni came up to the table; it was really cool to hear what several Embry-Riddle alumni are up to in the regional airline industry.

I attended the event as a member of the media representing Airways magazine. As a member of the media, RAA has a program set up where we hear from the regional aircraft manufacturers one day and the regional airlines the next day which provided great exposure to a side of the industry that I’ve had practically no exposure to.

Below are some interesting highlights and tidbits.

Bombardier: The company’s new commercial aircraft president made his first public experience on his fourth week on the job. Bombardier is hard at work finishing the testing and certification process of its new CSeries aircraft which will enter into service next year.

More than 1,700 Bombardier aircraft are on order of flying in North America, and Bombardier is hard at work developing modifications for existing aircraft such as the CRJ-900 to improve fuel and aircraft efficiency by double digits.

Embraer: Embraer’s best selling aircraft in North America is the E175, and in the last few years, we have seen many North American airlines add dozens of E175s to their fleet to help with replacing smaller and uneconomical ERJ-145s and CRJ-200s. As of right now, there are 436 ERJ aircraft and 420 E-Jets operating in North America.

Embraer sees more than 130 opportunities to sell more aircraft in North America, especially with the brand new E2 jet family it is currently developing.

Mitsubishi MRJ Aircraft: Last October, Mitsubishi rolled out its first MRJ aircraft which is a brand new aircraft that is expected to start flying passengers in 2017. During the company’s press conference, Mitsubishi announced that there will be a Seattle Engineering Center in South Seattle to support U.S. flight testing; there will be about 50 engineers from Japan and about 100 others that will be based out of this facility. Flight testing will also occur in Gunnison-Crested Butte Regional Airport for high altitude take offs and landings; for extreme environment testing, Mitsubishi will test the MRJ at McKinley Climatic Laboratory. Lastly, it will use Roswell International Air Center for special runway tests.

Cape Air: Linda Markham, Cape Air’s President, spoke to the media at the Regional Airline Association Convention, explained that the airline is doing pretty well as it recently saw its largest growth in about 20-25 years. The airline plans to upgrade its fleet to replace the 84 Cessna 402s, but Markham explained that the airline is taking the decision very seriously as it will have a big impact.

Though the airline is dealing with some minor turbulence. Right now, Cape Air is down 20-25 pilots. Most of the hiring is coming through the Gateway Program; this talent pipeline was one of the first of its kind and has proved to be a great way to flow pilots from their respective AABI-accredited universities all the way to JetBlue. Markham said that this has proved to work well with the airline with 22 of the participants already sitting in the left seat at JetBlue, and Cape Air sees this as a big recovery tool with the pilot shortage. Though, the airline continues to look at expanding with other companies to help establish more opportunities for pilots at Cape Air when they are ready to transition.

Republic Airways: Republic is busy working on reducing its Q-400 fleet, adding 60 E175 aircraft, and picking up more flying for American Airlines. Meanwhile, the airline is working on its third different strategy which is all about employee engagement. For example, Republic is busy re-working its pilot contract. Bryan Bedford, the CEO of Republic, explained that its new strategy and pilot contract negotiations “are beyond wages. It’s also about the quality of life which is typically about working less while still making a good salary.”

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Jack Harty is currently a second-year student at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Aviation Business Administration.  Jack regularly contributes to Airways Magazine.  He also serves as a Student Assistant in the Career Services office at Embry-Riddles Daytona Beach campus.

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