Aircraft manufacturers are doing everything that they can do to reduce fuel consumption while at the same time reducing GHG emissions without increasing the cost to operate their passenger aircraft.
In the United States, only three airlines are referred to as “Legacy Airlines.” They are American, Delta, and United. Other airlines such as Southwest Airlines are termed “Major Airlines” but do not carry the “Legacy” distinction. One distinguishing characteristic of the Legacy Airlines is that they exclusively have Collective Bargaining Agreements (“CBA’s) with their pilots that incorporate provisions termed “Scope Clauses.” The Scope Clause provisions limit the Legacy Airlines in their ability to contract with independent regional airlines for cooperative services to and from the smaller airports. It is also important to understand that fundamental airline economic factors create a direct link between the size of the aircraft and the airport it serves. Smaller airports require smaller aircraft. Small airports cannot economically support large aircraft. Thus the Legacies want to “contract out” small airport services to the regional airlines that operate smaller aircraft. Importantly the regional airlines pay their pilots significantly less money that the Legacies pay their pilots.
Scope Clauses limit a significant number of parameters that are defined within the contracts between the Legacies and the Regionals. For example, Scope Clauses restrict the number of seats that the regional partner aircraft can sell in each particular aircraft. Also limited are the number of aircraft in total that can be covered by these contracts. Another limitation involves the total number of hours contracted and the percentage of contracted flights that exceed certain distances. (There are other limitations as well, described later in this blog post.)
Regarding seat limitations, they are placed on the number of seats that any individual aircraft is scheduled to fly. For example, the regionals operate aircraft such as the Bombardier CRJ 900. It is actually certified by the regulatory authorities to carry up to 90 passengers but the Scope Clauses restrict the operation of this aircraft to 76 seats. This specific example is in place with SkyWest Airlines’ contract with Delta Airlines for the “Delta Connection.” The SkyWest Airlines CRJ900 therefore operates with 14 empty seats in its Delta Connection contract.
The seat limitation is trifurcated into the following seating limitations:
Not to exceed 50 seats. SkyWest Airlines operates the Bombardier CRJ100 and the CRJ200 for American Airlines’ “American Eagle” and for Delta Airlines’ “Delta Connection.” These two aircraft are certified for just 50 seats.
Between 51 and 76 seats. Skywest Airlines operates the Bombardier CRJ700 for American Eagle, The Delta Connections, and also for United Airlines’ “United Express.” The CRJ700 is certified for up to 78 seats. However, the Delta Scope Clause places restrictions at both 70 seats and 76 seats. The American Airlines Scope Clause has restrictions at 65 seats. United Airlines’ restrictions exist at a total not to exceed of 255 aircraft between 51 and 76 seats and not to exceed 153 aircraft at specifically 76 seats.
Specifically, at 76 seats. SkyWest Airlines operates the Bombardier CRJ900 for the Delta Connection, with the seating configuration “blocked out” at 76 seats although the aircraft is actually certified to carry up to 90 passengers. Thus the Delta Connection operates the CRJ900 with 14 empty seats. SkyWest also operates the Embraer 175 for The Delta Connection and United Express. The EMB175 is certified for up to 88 passengers but both Delta Connection and United Express operate it in a dual class configuration, certified at 76.
There are many more Regional Airlines other than Skywest Airlines that contract with the Legacies through their Scope Clauses. For example, American Airlines’ American Eagle contracts with Compass Airlines, Envoy Air, Express Jet, Mesa Airlines, Piedmont Airlines, PSA Airlines, Republic Airlines, and Trans State Airlines.
The Delta Connection includes Compass Airlines, Endeavor Air, Express Jet, Go Jet, and Republic, in addition to SkyWest. The United Express includes Air Wisconsin, Commutair, Express Jet, Go Jet, Mesa Airlines, Republic Airlines, Trans State Airlines, in addition to SkyWest.
The collection of all these Regional Airline operations under the three Scope Clauses are very similar to what is described above in the seating limitation trifurcation.
And now we come to the 86,000 pound question. In addition to the restrictions on number of seats, total aircraft fleets, hours that can be contracted, and geographical/distance limitations, there is one remaining limit that has become a significant issue, and that is an upper limit on the “Maximum Takeoff Gross Weight” (“MTOGW”) of any aircraft that can be contracted out to the regionals. The mystery is “why” this additional restriction was interjected into the Scope Clauses and why the original restrictions were not fully determinative. What was missing? This restriction has now become a major international problem as well as hampering future regional jet sales.
The parameter MTOGW incorporates the structural weight of the aircraft and its components, including engines. It also includes the weight of the passengers, their baggage, cargo, and the total weight of the fuel on board. So a limitation on MTOGW involved some limitations on or any of these measures. In any event, it limits the aircraft’s performance envelope.
There are some 15 discrete, existing aircraft that can be included within the “Regional Jet” category, with the additional categorization that they are all either close to or heavier than the 86,000 pound MTOGW limit. (For example, the EMB145 has a 48,500 pound MTOGW, although not really relevant here.)
Of these 15 “heavier” regional jets, only two can meet the 86,000 pound MTOGW Scope Clause restriction – the Bombardier CRJ900LR and the Embraer 170, coming in at 84,500 pounds and 85,098 pounds respectively. The AirbusA220-100, one of the Bombardier CS Series aircraft, a subject of one of my earlier blogs, has a MTOGW of 134,000 pounds. With no fuel on board, it has a maximum zero fuel weight of 100,000 pounds. The A220 is therefore totally excluded by the Scope Clause from the Legacy/Regional cooperative market. So, virtually all of the newer regional jets are being blocked out by the existing Scope Clauses. It is clear that Delta, in placing its order for the A220, intends to operate this aircraft within its own CBA. It will eventually replace the B717 that Delta currently operates.
At the moment, the single aircraft that is causing the biggest problem is the Embraer 175E2, which has a MTOGW of 98,767 pounds, thus being 6 tons “overweight.” Embraer cannot reasonably be expected to address this 6 ton problem through a reduction of fuel, passengers, or cargo/baggage. Therefore, it has to look to the aircraft structure itself, but that is not doable either. Embraer is therefore actually looking at the possibility of somehow getting a waiver or elimination of the 86,000 pound MTOGW Scope Clause restriction.
Epitomized by the Airbus A220 series and the Embraer E2 series, these new aircraft have greatly improved performance capabilities. They are significantly more fuel efficient, they have significantly better payload/range capabilities, and they have significant emission improvements compared to their derivative predecessors. As an example, the Embraer 175E2 burns significantly less fuel than its predecessor, the E175. To get that performance, Embraer made significant changes to the fuselage and the wing, reducing weight and improving aerodynamics. To get the reduced fuel burn, they changed the engine to an entirely new, highly advanced engine, switching from GE to Pratt & Whitney. But that engine added significant weight to the aircraft. Getting the improved fuel burn required design changes to the engine that added weight.
Will the Legacy pilots agree to relax or waive the 86,000 Scope Clause restriction? Stay tuned.
The photo above shows an American Eagle CRJ700. The aircraft is actually registered to and owned by American Airlines Inc.