The European regional aviation sector met in the Greek capital for the ERA General Assembly in October to discuss industry developments.
More than 400 European aviation leaders and key industry figures converged on Athens for the 2017 edition of the ERA (European Regions Airline Association) General Assembly.
The ERA General Assembly’s membership includes 53 airlines and 148 associate and affiliate members who jointly cover the entire spectrum of the aviation sector – airlines, airports, manufacturers and suppliers.
While in Athens, the role of regional airlines was clear. They provide an essential complementary and supporting role to the consolidating European no-frills (low cost) and network airline operators.
Regional operators fill the gaps left by these incumbents and ensure a complete and effective European air transport network. While delivering a keynote address to ERA General Assembly members and the trade media, Boet Kreiken, ERA president, said it as a very dynamic industry.
“The industry is in a good state,” he noted, with lots of opportunities for regionals in the market. “ERA offers a tremendous amount of value for members by looking after their interests and fighting the red tape,” said Kreiken, commenting on the work that the ERA General Assembly does for the industry.
After the keynote address, industry commentator John Strickland gave an overview of European aviation and agreed with Kreiken that the industry is blossoming, with more opportunities and choice for operators.
Strickland singled out the unstoppable rise of low cost carriers (LCC), citing near domination of the skies over Europe and massive fleet growth, covering more major airports than ever before. The trend towards using major airport hubs rather than less costly secondary airports seems to be gaining momentum.
Of course, easyJet has always seen the value in having a presence at primary airports, but what’s interesting is Ryanair’s change of strategy in serving some major gateways, such as Frankfurt Airport in Germany.
“I wouldn’t have dared to say 18 months ago that they [Ryanair] were going to be at Frankfurt Airport with a couple of aircraft, and by next Spring have as many as 10 aircraft at Frankfurt,” Strickland stated in his address. He also highlighted LCC growth as putting significant pressure on yields.
The challenges for regional airlines included the lack of slot access at many major airports, the downturn in the oil sector, the lack of new small aircraft development, and the worsening pilot shortage. However, in the grand scheme of things the industry is in good shape, it was concluded.
The General Assembly also provided a platform for the OEMs to supply and discuss updates with the media about their various programmes.
Pratt & Whitney Canada (P&WC) revealed that in 2017 it will have delivered its 100,000th engine. In the regional market, P&WC has accumulated over 180 million hours, with some 6,600 engines in service and over 35 different models of regional airliner engines.
Achieving its 100,000th engine has not come without significant investment in its engines. P&WC is the biggest investor in Canada with over $400 million a year in R&D. “We have certified 100 engines in the last 25 years, so about five per year.
There is no one else in the industry that is able to put out five new engines a year. It’s not just about putting our product out there, we continue to innovate in our product, and of course we have an extensive service centre network to support the engines that we put out there,” remarks Irene Makris, vice president sales and marketing at P&WC.
The regional airline sector in Europe has greatly evolved, constituting of various players in different roles. Many will find niche markets where they can make money – they will also do a lot more ACMI [Aircraft, Crew, Maintenance, and Insurance] work which is filing the gaps and provides capacity to the major airlines and LCCs.
As the requirements for airlines evolve, so do the engines. P&WC state that the power range of regional turboprops is now spanning from 1,800 shaft horsepower all the way up to 5,000 – “It’s a great achievement,” comments Frédéric Lefebvre, vice president marketing at P&WC.
Lefebvre highlights the PW100 family engines [PW100 and PW150] – “They are truly designed for the regional markets, they are providing very low operating costs and that’s especially true when airlines are flying very short missions.”
PW&C will continue to invest in saving fuel burn and reducing fuel consumption, while also certifying engines for biofuels operations. On the ATR platform, P&WC is continuously investing in the PW127M engine, “we recently provided extra power in hot and high conditions,” comments Lefebvre.
Similarly, on the PW150 the engine manufacturer is working with Bombardier to develop the capability of those engines, essentially, to fly at slightly higher altitudes and in turn, achieve better fuel burn.
“For both programmes we have not only invested in the product, but the services we provide, and one of them is our FAST system [Flight Acquisition, Storage and Transmission] and we have been working with both ATR and Bombardier to provide those capabilities,” he continues.
P&WC is also looking at the future and getting ready eventually for a larger aircraft in the 90 seat category. “We have developed what we call the next generation regional turboprop and we are also looking at making sure the product has a range of applications similar to the PW100 family,” says Lefebvre.
No doubt the aforementioned 90-seater will come from Bombardier, or at least the first one to be developed. SpiceJet will be the launch operator of the 90-seat Q400, complementing their existing fleet.
“Industry players have talked about developing a 90-seat turboprop, but today only Bombardier has turned that vision into a reality,” outlines Ryan DeBrusk, vice president sales – Europe, Russia and CIS at Bombardier.
“We are witnessing growth in the number of passengers per departure in the turboprop market and Bombardier responded with the 90-seat turboprop.” He says, adding that with a 90-seat aircraft, Bombardier will be able to offer significantly more value and more revenue generating capability for operators.
2017 has been a very strong year for the Q400. DeBrusk reports that Bombardier booked over 60 orders for the type in 2017, the biggest order being for 25 and a further 25 options for SpiceJet. “The European market continues to focus on shorter, thinner routes. We know that most intra-regional routes are within 2000 nautical miles, they are growing fast and they still favour the 60-100 seat category,” he states.
Over at Embraer, the Brazilian aircraft manufacturer reports a strong, robust customer base in Europe, with 30 operators flying some 300 E-ets across a varied number of different airliners. The company has registered over 1800 firm orders, with over 500 options, and a firm backlog of 437 aircraft across the E1 and E2 platforms at the time of writing.
The E2 is on schedule to come into service during 1H18 for the 190E2, 2019 for the 195E2 and 2021 for the 175E2. “The E2 is a great aircraft and we are getting a great reaction from the customers,” declares Martyn Holmes, vice president – Europe, Middle East and CIS at Embraer.
Norwegian airline Widerøe will be the E190-E2 launch operator. Holmes reports that a technical team from Widerøe flew to Brazil to amerce in the operations of the E2 on a prototype aircraft. “In February  we are going to take one of the prototype test aircraft up to Norway.
“This is a great introduction for the team in Norway for familiarisation, additional training, connectivity and demonstrations. This is a significant programme for both of our companies,” he says.
Holmes stresses the importance of mirroring airline operations during the flight test campaign, in order to identify improvement opportunities and prepare the aircraft for a mature aftermarket. “There is a lot of work here, so that the engineers, the flight dispatchers and everyone involved understands everything that might affect the operation. It’s about delivering to our customers an aircraft that works from day one in their operation.”
The next several months will be ones to watch in the European regional airline sector.