Wind of change in the market for short- and medium-haul jets

With an influx of new models and providers, the market for short- and medium-haul jets is undergoing a transition. These “workhorses” are the core business for airlines and aircraft manufacturers.

05.2015 | Text: Silke Hansen

Silke Hansen writes for AEROREPORT as a freelance journalist. For over ten years, she has covered the world of aviation focusing on technology, innovation and the market. Corporate responsibility reporting is another of her specialty areas.


TPA – Tampa International Airport

A seaplane with two seats ushered in the era of commercial passenger aviation. On just such a “flying boat”, Pilot Tony Jannus carried his first passenger 17 miles (27 kilometers) as the crow flies along the east coast of Florida from Tampa to St. Petersburg. The year was 1914, the flight lasted 23 minutes, and the one-way ticket cost five dollars. Today, the sector racks up some 33 million flights and 3.5 billion passengers a year worldwide. And aviation continues to expand, at an annual rate of around five percent on average. Passengers include everyone from European cultural tourists to the new Chinese middle class, and from students flying standby to the next party to business people traveling to an important meeting. Usually they fly in a short- or medium-range jet, which are known in the industry as regional jets or narrowbody aircraft. Narrow­bodies are single-aisle airplanes with five to six seats per row, while regional jets are smaller and generally have four to five seats per row. But what does “generally” even mean when we are talking about one of the most exciting and dy­­nam­­ic segments in today’s aviation industry?

Interaction: Comparing narrowbody and widebody aircraft

Comparing narrowbody and widebody aircraft

Passenger aircraft with jet engines are divided into size classes according to their range and seat capacity. To the interaction ...

Narrow­bodies are the workhorses in airline fleets—whether with low-cost start-ups or flag carriers. Airbus has calculated that narrowbodies make up 78 percent of all air­craft in fleets worldwide. Over half of all airplane distances traveled are flown by single-­aisle aircraft. Airlines primarily operate them within continents for point-to-point and feeder flight traffic, which require aircraft to fly numerous connections spread out over a day. The planes are the most important segment for aircraft and engine manu­facturers. They represent the core of Boeing’s and Airbus’ business in narrow­bodies and of Embraer’s and Bombardier’s business in regional jets, respectively. However, times have begun to change, perhaps signaling the end of their predominance. “The short- and medium-haul market is very dynamic and is currently in a powerful state of flux,” confirms Dr. Marc Le Dilosquer, market expert at MTU Aero Engines. Theodor Pregler, who heads the company’s commercial aviation engine programs, speaks of an ongoing “generational transition.” How has this come about?


The U.S. and China are already the world’s largest air passenger markets by a significant margin. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) predicts that passenger volume from, to and within China will overtake that of the United States for the first time in 2030.

Source: International Air Transport Association

Widebodys vs. Narrowbodys und Regionaljets

NKM – Nagoya Hikojo

Nagoya Airport, Honshu Island, Japan’s industrial heartland, October 18, 2014: Ac­com­panied by drumming and a children’s choir, the first Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ) rolls out of the hangar. The prototype is an historic milestone in the Land of the Rising Sun. For the first time in half a century, a Japanese company has entered the com­mercial aircraft market. When it arrives on the market in 2017, the new regional jet MRJ90 will be taking on the top dogs from Embraer and Bombardier. The Japanese want to sell a total of 1,500 aircraft and have booked 407 orders to date. Designed for between 70 and 90 passengers, the MRJ is scheduled to commence flight testing in 2015. The customer Eastern Air Lines, based in Miami, Florida, has christened the plane “Eastern Whisperjet”. This whispering is thanks in no small part to the aircraft’s engine, which features the newly developed Geared Turbofan™ (see Inside MTU). An additional gear train makes the engine significantly more efficient—it consumes less fuel, is more eco-friendly, and is quieter. These virtues were also enough to persuade Mitsubishi’s competitor Embraer. The Brazilian manufacturer is revamping its best­selling E-Jet and fitting the Geared Turbofan exclusively to the wings of the E2-175, E2-190, and E2-195.

A popular way to travel

Every year, the number of air passengers grows by 5 percent on average. Hover over the image for a bigger view

Every year, the number of air passengers grows by 5 percent on average.


Every year, the number of air passengers grows by 5 percent on average.

General cost pressures are driving market diversification. Airlines calculate very pre­cisely which aircraft to use on which routes and al­­ways strive to get as close as they can to the optimum operating costs per seat mile in each case: “For airlines, it’s al­ways about cost-effectiveness and efficiency. All new models are developed with this in mind,” says Bernhard Köppel, MTU specialist for aircraft analyses.

And new models are coming thick and fast. Eight new aircraft families will join the avail­able choices over the next five years. In the aircraft and aero engine sector, where development and technology times are necessarily lengthy, that is nothing less than a deluge. “The market is large enough,” reckons Le Dilosquer. He predicts that almost 27,000 new narrowbodies and regional jets will leave production halls over the next 20 years—that figure represents around half the total deliveries of commercial aircraft with jet engines. “The reasons for this are prolonged market growth and fleet ren­ewals.” Asia continues to be the region with the strongest growth in the aviation sec­tor. The low-cost segment is developing in particularly dynamic ways there, with established airlines founding their own budget lines.

Interaction: Geared turbofan™ compared to everyday noises

Geared turbofan™ compared to everyday noises

A jackhammer? A freight train? Or perhaps just a car going by at 60 kph? It's surprising how quiet a GTF engine is compared to everyday noises. To the interaction ...

TLS – Aéroport de Toulouse-Blagnac

A glorious sunny day at Toulouse Airport, ideal weather for a maiden flight: the date is September 25, 2014 and Airbus is sending its new narrowbody jet out onto the run­way. The A320neo is a modernized version of a bestseller—the European consortium grew up on the success of the A320 family. Now the jet has been given a new engine (neo stands for “new engine option”). Operators can choose between a variant of Pratt & Whitney’s Geared Turbofan with more powerful thrust, a similar core engine, and similar advantages in terms of consumption, noise, and environmental pollution as the “smaller” versions for the regional jets, or an engine from the new Leap family, prod­uced by the U.S.-French joint venture CFMI. Airlines are scrambling to get their hands on the jet, whose list price is between 97.5 and 124.4 million U.S. dollars depending on the version. The biggest cost driver for airlines is kerosene, and compared to the regular A320, the A320neo can reduce annual fuel costs by around a million U.S. dollars. It is no wonder, then, that the record-breaking A320neo has sold faster than any other commercial aircraft since its official launch in December 2010. A good 3,700 firm orders from 70 customers are on the books, and that is before it has even entered service.

The aircraft’s direct competitor from Airbus’ perennial rival Boeing has still to catch up. From 2017, however, Boeing wants to gain an edge with the successor model 737MAX—exactly fifty years after the first flight of the 737-100. The 737MAX is the fourth generation of the blockbuster. Boeing has already sold more than 2,700 737MAX. Unlike its European rival, the U.S. manufacturer opted exclusively for the LEAP-1B engine.

The aircraft’s direct competitor from Airbus’ perennial rival Boeing has still to catch up. From 2017, however, Boeing wants to gain an edge with the successor model 737MAX—exactly fifty years after the first flight of the 737-100. The 737MAX is the fourth generation of the blockbuster. Boeing has already sold more than 2,700 737MAX. Unlike its European rival, the U.S. manufacturer opted exclusively for the LEAP-1B engine.

MTU’s medium-haul power: Geared Turbofan™ & Co.

Pratt & Whitney and MTU Aero Engines’ Geared Turbofan™ engine is in demand on short- and medium-haul routes due to its scalable core engine.

YMX – Aéroport International Montréal-Mirabel

A cold Canadian winter in Mirabel, Quebec: in the night, temperatures have dropped to minus 28 degrees Celsius. On January 14, 2015, test aircraft FTV2 accomplishes flaw­less laps in the presence of the aviation authority—it has passed its cold weather tests, marking an important milestone on the road to certification and initial delivery of the Bombardier CSeries. With their new airplane, the Canadians are looking for a slice of the lucrative narrowbody market. Previously, Bombardier was specialized in smaller aircraft. “Boeing and Airbus’ duopoly is coming to an end,” says Le Dilosquer. “While those two still control the segment’s upper end of 150- to 200-seaters, Bombardier now occupies the lower end of up to 150 seats.” The CSeries (CS100, 110 seats / CS300, 135 seats) is currently the only aircraft designed wholly from scratch in this category and is also equipped with the Geared Turbofan.

Although new competitors further east have to gain a foothold in the business first, they are beginning to join the fray. Russian and Chinese manufacturers are developing their own products in national aircraft projects: the MS-21 from Irkut (from 2017, with Geared Turbofan) and the C919 from the Chinese manufacturer Comac (from 2018). “We’ll see whether the planes can gain acceptance and how they compete. First they’ll have to prove themselves in their domestic markets before western airlines come knocking,” says Pregler.


Deliveries of narrowbody aircraft with jet engines from 2014 to 2033

Source: MTU Aero Engines

Narrowbodies and regional jets: DEVELOPMENT OF FLEETS FROM 2014 TO 2033

Source: MTU Aero Engines

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