Well, like just about every prediction put forth on this board, the ones below will probably be proven wrong.
First, RJs will continue to replace former turboprop routes, but not at the rates we saw in the 1990s. Shorter, small-market routes (DFW
-VLD, etc.) still make profitability difficult with jets. They are too short and don't carry enough passengers to make a consistent profit. Still, as operation becomes more efficient, I think you will probably see turboprops disappear within 10-15 years.
What happens to RJs on other routes is a different question. On one hand, there could be a big RJ
backlash in the next few years. The RJ
phenomenon has been driven by a curious mix of market forces. Business travelers told airlines they wanted more frequencies, so when airlines couldn't fill up 737s and A319s, they looked to the RJ
even on longer, larger-city routes (DFW
, for example). At the same time, however, airlines saw that certain cities could be served non-stop instead of through a connecting hub, so they started service on these routes as well (like AUS
). This satisfied people who were tired of connecting through congested hubs like DFW
, and ATL
However, as the RJs start gaining a more significant share of the market, I think you will see more frequent flyers getting fed up with them. The biggest complaints, of course, are the lack of legroom and overhead bin space. I flew MSP
on a CRJ-700 yesterday, and half the passengers were standing in the jetway on arrival, waiting for their gate-checked bags. This is a hassle I'd expect when flying through an airport like ABI
, but not on a route like MSP
. In addition, elite flyers don't have the potential to be upgraded on an RJ
flight. If I were a Platinum AAdvantage member returning from a long business trip, I'd definitely prefer First Class on an MD
-80 than a cramped window seat on an EMB-140. Airlines are betting that these travelers prefer frequency to large planes, and if another airline tries the opposite and is successful, look for some major marketing campaigns (e.g. "Big Jets. Big Legroom. United." or something along those lines).
In another scenario, however, RJ
growth on "major" routes could hold steady at its current stage, but not expand too terribly much. Personally, I can't see routes like DFW
going all-RJ in the near future, unless the market just really tanks. I do think there will be some slight growth in the point-to-point markets, such as AUS
(which should start this fall) and other mid-size markets. People from non-hub major cities like AUS
can get sick of connecting through big hubs, and the RJs provide them with another option that takes less time and hassle.
I think the latter scenario is more likely. Look for RJs to expand on some routes, but I'd expect some other major big-hub routes to remain mainline, and maybe go back to all-mainline service. As I said before, however, no one really knows what will happen.