US regional carrier CommutAir has announced that it will be refreshing the interior of its ERJ145 fleet. The 50-seat regional aircraft will be upgraded to see some aesthetic refreshes and structural changes to several key parts of the passenger cabin. CommutAir flies exclusively for United Airlines, and the refresh comes as United determines what the best use for its 50-seat regional aircraft fleet in the future.
CommutAir’s fleet is getting a refresh
CommutAir will start refreshing the interior of its Embraer ERJ145 fleet with the support of United Airlines. The 50-seat regional aircraft will start seeing retrofits soon and will be rolled out through 2022. There are several different initiatives CommutAir is targeting with the refresh.
Much of the refresh is aesthetic. The aircraft will receive new sidewalls and bulkhead finishes to modernize the planes. New overhead bins and LED cabin and reading lights will help also keep the jets feeling fresh. The overhead bins will not be larger to accommodate carry-on suitcases, but it is more of a refresh. Another area of improvement includes a completely redesigned lavatory. The ERJ145s feature a single lavatory at the rear of the aircraft.
CommutAir President and CEO, Rick Hoefling, stated the following on the refresh:
“We are excited to be partnering with United on expanding our much-needed service to small communities throughout the country. The cabin refresh is another example of our collaborative efforts to enhance the onboard experience for our customers and invest in our future.”
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CommutAir’s Embraer ERJ145s fly under the United Express banner. These aircraft have room for 50 passengers onboard in an all-economy layout. This is split between 44 standard economy seats and six extra-legroom economy seats.
The ERJ145s are all in a 1-2 configuration. Most of these planes are used on routes to smaller destinations in the United States. The configuration clearly shows that the aircraft is relatively small, which means most larger carry-on luggage has to be checked at the gate. These planes also do not feature a dedicated premium cabin.
The refresh will not include densification. The planes will remain in an all-economy 50-seat configuration. The airline flies over 70 ERJ145s for United Airlines, and that fleet may grow as United decided to consolidate all ERJ145 flying with CommutAir last year.
In support of the refresh, Ankit Gupta, United’s senior vice president of domestic network and United Express, stated the following:
“United is committed to elevating the customer experience for all travelers flying in our small communities. We’re excited to support CommutAir’s efforts to enhance their fleet of ERJ145 aircraft as they truly complement United’s investments to provide more travelers with the modern amenities that matter most to them.”
The future of 50-seat flying
United Airlines revealed the “United Next” plan in June. The airline ordered 270 larger narrowbody mainline aircraft and has plans to increase its gauge. As part of taking on new aircraft, the airline will be retiring over 200 single-cabin regional jets. This put the future of all-economy 50-seat flying in question.
United Airlines has already started pulling all-economy aircraft like the ERJ145 out of premium markets, such as Newark. The airline plans to bring down departures of these aircraft types across its network in the coming years. For example, by 2026, United plans to bring its single-class regional jet departures from 33% of its North American departures down to around 10%.
The 50-seat regional aircraft are key on routes to many of the small destinations in the United States. This includes places where United has received an Essential Air Service (EAS) subsidy and other smaller destinations in the airline’s network. The question then becomes what happens with those destinations.
While some may make sense to move to an aircraft like the CRJ550, a 50-seat regional aircraft that features a 10-seat first class cabin, and others on larger 70+-seat regional jet, others may not work in the long-term in the airline’s network.
The refresh indicates that CommutAir’s Embraer ERJ145s will be flying for a few years to come. What comes after that, however, remains to be seen.