America’s 50 Seater Jets: An Important Gap Filler

Think 50-seat regional jets (RJs), think the United States. Launched in the mid-1990s, such aircraft have flown over 1.6 billion seats to, from, and within the US between 2004 and 2021. However, use of them has declined almost yearly due to poorer economics relative to larger regional jets. This raises the question: what are the longest routes 50-seat RJs are now used on?

United CRJ200
United Express will operate 90% of the US’ 750-mile-plus routes by 50-seat RJs between now and the end of the year. But the writing is on the wall, with 2026 given as the year by which United will retire 200 of the aircraft. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

An important gap filler

The 50-seat market has focused on low-density routes with shorter stage lengths, mainly feeding hubs and providing more connectivity. Examining schedules from Cirium, the aviation data company, shows that nearly four in ten flights between 2004 and 2021 were on routes less than 300 miles. Meanwhile, only one in ten was more than 750 miles.

They saw particular success on routes that didn’t have sufficiently high numbers of business passengers (who paid more and were more profitable) and where seats were often filled by high numbers of leisure travelers who paid lower fares.

American ERJ145LR
American Eagle will operate the 1,080-mile service between Cleveland and Miami. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Once downgauging was a thing

As airlines couldn’t profitably fill larger aircraft that were more expensive to operate, they downgauged to lower-capacity aircraft in collaboration with regional partners on a capacity purchase agreement (CPA) basis.

While this resulted in higher seat-mile costs (but lower sector costs), it was offset by higher-yielding passengers. In the late 1990s, this typically resulted in stronger financial performance for regional partners than for airlines for which they were flying.

50-seat jet decline in the US
Nowadays, 50-seaters are far less effective economically, which accounts for their continual decline. This is especially the case with a higher fuel price (the aircraft have a relatively greater fuel consumption than larger equipment) and the larger-capacity RJs now permitted under the US scope clause agreement. These bigger RJs benefit from lower seat-mile costs and more passengers than 50-seaters, together with lower trip costs than narrowbodies. Image: Simple Flying using data from Cirium

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73 routes over 750 miles

Between now and the end of the year, 50-seat RJs will be used on 73 US routes over 750 miles. Some 23,000 flights are scheduled, or 4% of all 50-seat RJ flights, showing how infrequently they’re used on such long sectors.

These 73 routes will be operated by five airlines (well, on their behalf, anyway): Air Canada; American; Delta; Elite; and United. Delta has just one long flight: from Knoxville to Minneapolis (see image). The vast bulk (90%) will be United Express using Air Wisconsin, CommutAir, GoJet, and SkyWest, mostly from its Denver, Houston, and Chicago hubs.

The only long 50-seat RJ flight for Delta
Based on the latest available data, Delta has just one 750+ mile flight by the small RJs. It the 792-mile service from Knoxville to Minneapolis, and it is in the air as this article is being written. The CRJ-200 has replaced the -900 on this day. Image:

Only four long routes are international

Only four long routes are international: Kansas City to Toronto (838 miles); Denver-Winnipeg (783 miles); Dallas Fort Worth-Zacatecas (770 miles); and Houston Intercontinental-Puebla (769 miles). Envoy Air, operating for American Eagle, will use the Embraer 145 on just four round-trips to Zacatecas, all in October.

Air Canada Express CRJ-200
Air Canada Express, by Jazz, will use the CRJ-200 from Toronto to Kansas City from the start of winter. Photo: Wiltshire Spotter via Wikimedia.

The USA’s longest 50-seat jet routes

While all four services to Canada and Mexico are long for 50-seaters, they aren’t the longest. That ‘honor’ (unless you’re tall and/or broad-shouldered) goes to Cleveland to Miami, at some 1,080 miles. See below the photo for the top-10 longest.

Elite Airways CRJ-200
The longest route for Elite Airways’ CRJ-200s won’t involve Las Vegas (seen here), but instead Newark to Vero Beach, operating until early September. Photo: Tomás Del Coro via Wikimedia.
  1. Cleveland-Miami: 1,080 miles
  2. Indianapolis-Miami: 1,020 miles
  3. Miami-Pittsburgh: 1,013 miles
  4. Denver-Eugene: 996 miles
  5. Columbus-Miami: 990 miles
  6. Denver-Santa Rosa: 977 miles
  7. Newark-Vero Beach: 967 miles
  8. Denver-Medford: 964 miles
  9. Memphis-New York La Guardia: 963 miles
  10. Denver-Monterey: 959 miles

American Eagle’s Embraer 145s have only 48 round-trip flights from Cleveland and Miami for the rest of the year. They’ll operate alongside American’s more economically sound A319s and B737-800s, along with Envoy and Republic Airways’ Embraer 175s.

What is the longest RJ flight you’ve been on? Let us know in the comments.