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Regional Jets Jam O'Hare

Thu Feb 19, 2004 8:23 am

Found this interesting article in the Chicago Tribune

By Jon Hilkevitch
Tribune transportation reporter
Published February 18, 2004

The nation's two largest airlines are set to trim flights at O'Hare International Airport in March to ease delays, but the intense escalation of the use of smaller jets will make it difficult to notice any congestion relief, aviation experts say.

Regional jets, with 35 to 70 seats, account for more than 40 percent of the 1,400 daily departures at O'Hare, up from less than one-third of flights two years ago when flight caps at the airport were lifted, according to an analysis of data in the Official Airline Guide.

The number of daily regional-jet departures by United Express, United Airlines' commuter affiliate, has soared 111 percent at O'Hare since 2002, the data showed.

The small planes allow for more flights to mid-size communities while containing labor and operating costs. But they use the same runways as jumbo jets carrying 300 passengers, and they require parking gates and the same amount of air-traffic control. In some cases they require even more, because regional jets need extra spacing in the air to avoid turbulence from bigger planes.

In March, United and American, which account for 88 percent of O'Hare's flights, will reduce their schedules 5 percent during peak hours, including cuts in some regional-jet flights.

The swarm of regional jets buzzing in and out of O'Hare shoved the airport into last place in November for on-time performance in the U.S.

"The airlines are in a rush to get more small airplanes because more frequent flights help them dominate [travel] markets and they think it's giving the customers what they want," said David Aldrich, an American Airlines captain who is a spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association.

"But it's a terrible way to utilize limited airspace and crowded airports."

Making things worse

The airlines have turned to the smaller aircraft to help solve their immediate financial crisis by lowering costs. But the move is exacerbating congestion and does not offer long-term strategies to deal with projected growth in air travel.

United Express saturated O'Hare with an average of 292 regional-jet departures scheduled each day through the first three months of 2004, compared with only 138 such flights in the first quarter of 2002.

The number of United Airlines departures using 737s and larger aircraft--which carry two to six times the number of passengers as regional jets--increased only 2 percent at O'Hare in the same period, according to the data tabulated for the Tribune by consultant BACK Aviation Solutions.

The number of daily regional-jet departures by American Eagle, a subsidiary of American Airlines, has grown 39 percent at O'Hare since 2002, the data showed. For American Eagle, it means 225 regional-jet departures a day now, compared with an average of 161 two years ago, the analysis showed.

American Airlines' average daily departures at O'Hare using large aircraft have increased 4 percent.

Airline executives say the move to smaller planes best serves business travelers going to small and mid-size cities. Costs are lower in part because regional-jet pilots earn less than pilots who fly the big Boeing and Airbus planes and only one flight attendant is needed.But some corporate fliers say four flights a day on larger aircraft would be adequate to some destinations now served by as many as eight regional-jet flights.

Wrong `mantra'

"The mantra that the business traveler demands frequency is a bit overblown by the major carriers," said Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition. "What's needed are consistent, affordable fares and reliable on-time service."

American and United plan to reschedule or eliminate 62 daily flights next month to combat delays, but the number of flights at O'Hare has surpassed pre-9/11 levels.

"The delay problem will surely get worse as the airlines ramp up their operations," said Joseph Schwieterman, chairman of the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development at DePaul University. "By expanding their small-jet schedules, the airlines are putting an enormous burden on the airport."

Officials at United and American said they do not plan to shift regional-jet flights to larger aircraft in response to the increase in travel.

"We looked at the [regional jet] markets, and additional seats were not required," said Peter McDonald, United's executive vice president of operations.

Mitchell said airlines are also motivated to use more small planes to protect their takeoff and landing slots from being taken over by a competitor. Reducing flight schedules by using more large planes would make some slots vulnerable.

He said business travelers object to the shift from 737s to smaller planes because the cramped quarters--the regional jets don't provide a first-class cabin--"kills productivity. You can't even use a laptop on a regional jet."

Schwieterman said one solution might be for Chicago to adjust airport-use and landing fees to encourage airlines to use more large aircraft. Regional jets pay substantially lower landing fees, based on airplane weight.

The fee structure spurs airlines to exacerbate the congestion problem at O'Hare by operating fewer wide-body planes that seat 200 or more passengers, he said.

"The airlines need to be given an incentive to ensure that scarce runway space is rationally used," Schwieterman said. "Congestion pricing has become the norm in other industries. But for too long, airports have used a one-price-fits-all fee structure."

City officials said they have no plans to alter fees or try to encourage airlines to shift the makeup of their fleets.

"The increase in regional-jet flights has no doubt contributed to increased delays, but I think the airlines are making a rational decision to reduce costs and maintain service," said Chicago Aviation Commissioner Thomas Walker. "The airlines are doing what the market is demanding."

Copyright © 2004, Chicago Tribune

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RE: Regional Jets Jam O'Hare

Thu Feb 19, 2004 11:26 am

I didn't realize how many United Express Regionals are at ORD but, I defintely knew of AA Eagle at ORD. Maybe I haven't been over to the UA terminal in awhile.  Sad
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RE: Regional Jets Jam O'Hare

Thu Feb 19, 2004 11:39 am

Simple..just move some AA flights to STL......Then STL can get some more flights..

and no I DONT GIVE UP DO I??  Laugh out loud

Good things come to those who wait, better things come to those who go AFTER it!
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RE: Regional Jets Jam O'Hare

Thu Feb 19, 2004 11:43 am

It seems to be happening everywhere! Almost EVERY airline at MSP now has a regional jet serving it. Air Canada, Northwest, Continental, United, American, Delta, USAirways, Frontier.... Almost the whole shabang! As me being a vivid photographer, I might like these changes!

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RE: Regional Jets Jam O'Hare

Thu Feb 19, 2004 12:46 pm

Hey John? Got a lot of regionals up at MSP too? Mostly Northwest Airlink?
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RE: Regional Jets Jam O'Hare

Thu Feb 19, 2004 12:59 pm

CLE (and to an extent EWR and IAH) is jammed with CO ERJ's. Almost none of CLE's destinations have mainline service anymore, and the percentage for EWR and IAH is increasing. At CO, it is rare to hear of new service being started with mainline aircraft, and when it is, it is usually a 735 (the smallest mainline plane they have) because of range issues (i.e. EWR-TUS, EWR-ABQ). I guarantee that if there was an ERJ with the range to do these routes, it would be flying them in a second.

Oddly enough, however, I have yet to fly on a RJ. I am always on a 738 or larger with CO. I'm sure it's only a matter of time before I fly from New York to LAX on the Extra-Long-Range-with-Midair-Refueling-Embraer-Regional-Jet. Can you imagine the abbreviation in the scheduling? - ELRMRERJ.  Big grin
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RE: Regional Jets Jam O'Hare

Thu Feb 19, 2004 3:56 pm

The problems being experienced in ORD are indicative of other problems at hubs all over the US. If the airlines continue to add frequency the grid lock will only become worse. The fact is this: One airplane uses the runway at a time. At present, we have reached the technological and human factors limits in increasing airport acceptance rates. We either have to fly bigger airplanes that cost less to operate and carry more people or we need more pavement. It is that simple.

As an aside, I shudder to think what will happen when the hubs I visit frequently experience the inevitable reduction in turboprop flying. PHL, CLT, DCA, LGA... We turboprop drivers have been making ATC in these locations look good for quite some time. Love 'em or hate 'em, props can use the small runways that the big boys and RJ's can't and turboprops can be "abused" by ATC in ways you simply cannot get away with in a jet. Case in point: When arriving in CLT today, I went from maintaining max forward speed (200+ knots) to six miles out to maintaining minimum approach airspeed (90 knots) in just a few seconds... All at ATC's direction. You can't get this kind a flexibility out of an RJ. I think as the RJ virus multiplies you will see long 30 plus mile finals at allot of airports.

This may seem like a shameless plug for my "outdated" Dash 8, but I have to call it like I see it.
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RE: Regional Jets Jam O'Hare

Thu Feb 19, 2004 4:17 pm

Houston's the same way with Continental. I hate those pesky things. Must say they're better than the props we were stuck on before RJs though.
Airplanes Flown on..B-727-100, B-727-200, DC-9, F-27, B-707, B-717, B-737, B-747SP, B-747-100, B-747-200, B-747-300, B74
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RE: Regional Jets Jam O'Hare

Thu Feb 19, 2004 4:20 pm

I do think that the airport should adjust their fees so that it gives the airlines reason to use larger planes. If the fees are applied across the board all the airlines will have to cut frequentcy to certain markets served by the regionals numerous times per day making it a fare battle. I do understand that the smaller jets cost less to operate for the airlines however the problems at ORD need to be fixed or everyone is going to loose a lot of money in the long run. With the information supplied above there are a total of about 500 regional flight per day just from UA and AA landing every day. If you dispatch a larger jet (737 or A319) for half of those flights you could reduce the amount of landings by about half, that is 250 less landings per day (and also conceder that the regional needs more space) that can be used for other planes. I think that would help the airport out a ton and ATC could get the flights out ontime. That is what I would do!!!
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RE: Regional Jets Jam O'Hare

Thu Feb 19, 2004 11:41 pm

The fix to this is simple.

Like people said above.

It is a fact only one plane can occupy one runway at a time. An arrival rate or departure rate needs to be enforced by using slots.

A quick look over at shows 8 departures scheduled to take off from 9:00am to 9:01am. SURPRISE! Someone isn't going to get out on time. ORD doesn't even have eight runways.

It gets even worse when there are three more departures at 9:02am and then three more at 9:03am with 6 more at 9:05am and then what if there is a wide body departing in the middle of it all. Well, you have to wait for 2 minutes or 5 miles, so there goes another chance to get departures out.

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RE: Regional Jets Jam O'Hare

Thu Feb 19, 2004 11:51 pm

I agree completely. It's been astonishing to watch the "RJ invasion" of O'Hare. I moved to Chicago when I started college in 1999, and only American Eagle was operating RJs significantly (UAEx had the 146s but was still mostly props).

Sometime after 9/11 - and I'm not quite sure when - the insidious invasion of those pesky little RJs began in earnest. All of a sudden the damn things were everywhere, taking over routes MUCH too long for an aircraft with no first class and no head/legroom in coach. Things reached a peak last weekend, when I sat on American's Concourse H for fifteen minutes and saw nothing but RJs taxiing by. United has even started handling RJs out of Concourse C.

An airport the size of ORD - with the capacity constraints and the limited runway/taxiway space - should not be handling those kind of volumes. The airlines seem to view regional jets as the savior of the industry. I'll agree that they have "lifted" the image of the Express/Eagle/Connection/Airlink carriers and made them much more attractive. But the inevitable backlash to those damn little things is going to happen eventually.

I shudder to think what ORD will be like in another five years. Probably nothing but regional jets, except for international flights.
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RE: Regional Jets Jam O'Hare

Thu Feb 19, 2004 11:56 pm

Another view point.

I must say. Its nice (coming from an air traffic controller) to hear that no one is giving total blame to the ATC system.

Oh, and to make things worse, did you know that according to the FAA's own study 45% of controllers will be eligible for retirement in the next five years. The FAA has already, though reluctantly been looking into the undermanning situation at the ORD TRACON.

Guys, you don't create an ORD tower or radar controller over night or even within three years.

So whether or not runway construction begins or not, unless slots are enforced at ORD its only going to get worse. Even with the 5% reduction.

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