Forecast International has issued a new study, titled "The Market for Regional Transport Aircraft," in which the Connecticut-based market research firm projects that manufacturers will produce 4,040 regional aircraft during the 10-year period from 2015 through 2024. The total includes both regional jets and regional turboprop airliners. The value of this production is estimated at $136.1 billion in 2014 U.S. dollars.
The Forecast International study depicts a regional aircraft market that is on the upswing. Noting that regional aircraft production rose by almost 30 percent in the 2013-2014 timeframe, the study predicts that the next several years will see continued market growth, though at a more subdued rate. Yearly production is forecast to flatten out somewhat in 2015 and 2016, before more robust growth kicks in during the 2017-2020 timeframe.
The production growth will largely be due to the service entry and initial production ramp-ups of new jetliners such as the Bombardier CS100, the Embraer E2 family, and the Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ). Customers for these large-capacity regional jets will be found not only among regional airlines, but also within the ranks of major network airlines and low-fare carriers.
Scope clauses in pilot contracts remain a limiting factor in the large North American market, according to the study. With a minor exception for a handful of existing 86-seaters flown by American Airlines (former US Airways) partners, scope clauses at all three U.S. legacy carriers prohibit their regional partners from operating any aircraft larger than 76 seats.
Forecast International senior aerospace analyst Raymond Jaworowski said, "The next round of scope liberalization could keep the 76-seat limit in place, but might raise the accompanying 86,000-pound limit in maximum takeoff weight, which is found in all three contracts."
Raising the weight limit would permit new aircraft such as the Embraer E175-E2 and the Mitsubishi MRJ90, which exceed this weight restriction, to be operated in 76-passenger seating layouts.
Sales of regional turboprops have been strong in recent years, as high fuel prices and a need for carriers to reduce operating costs have driven demand for these aircraft. Recent steep declines in fuel prices, though, are sure to cool off turboprop demand to some extent, but a rebound in fuel costs would restore some of the lost momentum. Meanwhile, ATR and Bombardier have each been exploring the possibility of developing a 90-seat turboprop, but the new era of low fuel prices may be resulting in some hesitation in proceeding.
The Forecast International projections indicate that, based on unit production, Embraer, ATR, Bombardier, and new entrant Mitsubishi will be the leading regional aircraft manufacturers during the 2015-2024 forecast timeframe. Embraer is projected to build 910 regional jetliners during the period. ATR is expected to produce 836 regional turboprops. Bombardier, which produces both jets and turboprops, is forecast to build 696 regional aircraft. Mitsubishi is projected to produce 538 regional jets.