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American, Delta Double Down on Regional Flying

Both airlines say they are looking to reinforce regional capacity this year.

American and Delta aircraft in Los Angeles (Photo: Shutterstock)

Airlines are looking to bolster their regional operations following nearly four years of post-pandemic pilot supply challenges. In first-quarter 2024 earnings calls, both American and Delta detailed plans to adjust regional flying closer to or above pre-COVID levels.

In 2022, roughly 500 regional aircraft were grounded in the U.S. with carriers citing the pilot shortage as a constraint. Numerous other aircraft continue to be underutilized.

“We’ve been very short on our regionals,” said Delta’s President Glen Hauenstein during the company’s earnings call. “We still have probably at least 50 regionals either not flying or underutilized, probably almost 100 when you include the underutilization.”

Delta’s regional capacity – as measured by Available Seat Miles (ASMs) – lagged behind American by over 50% last year. American has the most regional capacity of any U.S. airline.

According to Cirium Diio schedule data, Delta is planning to increase regional capacity by nearly 12% between 2023 and 2024.

Regional capacity measured by ASMs (Data: Cirium Diio)

Increased Regional Jet Utilization

Leadership from both American and Delta have indicated that they expect to better utilize their regional aircraft this year and beyond. In 2023, American’s CEO Robert Isom shared that the carrier saw a 4% improvement in overall aircraft utilization. He added that this increase was “primarily driven by improvements in our regional supportability.”

American’s regional capacity is also slated to be up by approximately 11% year-over-year. The airline says it expects to have 535 fully utilized regional aircraft by the end of 2024.

“In the first quarter, we operated the equivalent of around 465 fully utilized regional jets,” added American CFO Devon May during last week’s earnings call. “We expect that number to grow by 20 to 25 regional jets each quarter as we move throughout the year.”

Delta executives made similar remarks during its earnings call. “The final stage of our core hub restoration will be the full return of regional flying,” added Hauenstein. The Atlanta-based carrier said that the underutilization of its regional fleet has resulted in hub capacity being left on the table.

“So, that’s a lot of seats and a lot of departures that we need in our hubs and we’re missing a lot of the core feed from the regional feed in the local vicinity,” Hauenstein continued. “So, right now, some of that’s being done by mainline and those planes can gravitate out, but mostly we’ll be adding frequencies back in that historically have been there from feeder markets into our core hubs.”

Offsetting Boeing’s Delivery Woes

American continues to face capacity growth constraints as a result of ongoing aircraft delivery delays at Boeing. The Fort Worth-based airline added that reductions in mainline capacity have been “largely offset by improvements in our regional aircraft utilization.”

Isom praised Embraer during the call, adding that “the rest of the industry and our OEMs can learn a lot from them.” American and its regional subsidiaries are among the largest operators of Embraer’s E170/E175s worldwide.

“We all here in the supply chain of partners or vendors that have really not recovered through the pandemic very well. We all know those names, but I want to give a shout out to Embraer. They have delivered day in and day out throughout the pandemic no matter the concerns of their supply chain,” he added.

Return of Grounded Jets

With many airlines – including both Delta and American – saying that the pilot supply is improving, grounded regional aircraft are gradually returning to service. Per Cirium Fleet Analyzer data, 370 regional jets remain in storage.

Delta’s wholly-owned regional subsidiary Endeavor Air has 54 aircraft, most of which being the now-retired CRJ-200.

Envoy, Piedmont, and PSA – which are all owned by the American Airlines Group – have a total of 70 aircraft in storage. The world’s largest regional carrier SkyWest has 101 aircraft grounded.

Ryan Ewing
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  • Ryan Ewing

    Ryan founded AirlineGeeks.com back in February 2013 and has amassed considerable experience in the aviation sector. His work has been featured in several publications and news outlets, including CNN, WJLA, CNET, and Business Insider. During his time in the industry, he's worked in roles pertaining to airport/airline operations while holding a B.S. in Air Transportation Management from Arizona State University along with an MBA. Ryan has experience in several facets of the industry from behind the yoke of a Cessna 172 to interviewing airline industry executives. Ryan works for AirlineGeeks' owner FLYING Media, spearheading coverage in the commercial aviation space.

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