The Trend is Clear: Upgauging is Here to Stay
The 50-seat regional jet was a workhorse of small community air service in the early 2000s. Now, these aircraft are being parked. U.S. airlines are upgauging from smaller, 50-seat regional jets to larger 76-seat and 100-seat jets. Often, this upgauging is accompanied with a loss in frequencies along with a loss in seats.
Only 151 of 360 (42%) of Small- and Non-Hub airports are supporting 70-seat service today. On average, RASA² analysis has found that airports need nearly 80,000 annual enplanements to support large regional jet (RJ) service. This means that many communities are simply too small to support larger jets–especially with populations with below-average propensities to fly.
U.S. Airports Currently Supporting 70+ Seat Aircraft Service
The 50-seat aircraft was a perfect fit to provide service to many smaller communities. But this aircraft has been largely taken out of service due to unprofitable operating economics in an unstable fuel price environment. However, no replacement 50-seat aircraft is currently in the pipeline to provide profitable service in a range of fuel price environments. With fewer 50-seat aircraft and without the market economics to support larger jets, many small communities may see themselves sized out of commercial air service.