A regional jet
is a small (less than 100 passengers) jet aircraft designed for airline
's first appeared en masse
in the early 1990's, but the idea dates back to the late 1960's, when the first Learjet
s were tearing up the business travel market and proving the viability of small jet planes. The earliest regional jets began to appear around this time: the Yakovlev Yak-40
from the Soviet Union
, the Fokker F.27 Fellowship
from the Netherlands
, and the BAe 146
from the United Kingdom
The relatively recent emergence of the RJ market owes itself to the decline of the hub-centered route systems that major airlines employed throughout the 1970's and 1980's. Before the RJ's became available, the smallest jet airliners (like the Boeing 737) carried upwards of 130 passengers, making them uneconomical to use on direct routes to and from smaller cities. Instead, airlines had to use smaller turboprop-driven aircraft, or consolidate their route network to feed traffic through high-density travel corridors.
Bombardier's CRJ (Canadair Regional Jet) is believed by many to be the first "modern" regional jet. It was originally a project of Northern Ireland's Short Brothers company in cooperation with Brazil's Embraer, before Bombardier bought Shorts in 1986 and continued to develop the aircraft on its own. Bombardier and Embraer ended up launching very similar regional jets around the same time, but the Canadian jet hit the market five years ahead of Brazil's, and scored early contracts with Lufthansa and Comair (one of Delta Air Lines' regional affiliates). Before long, Bombardier and Embraer had sold over a thousand CRJ's and ERJ's to airlines across the globe.
Boeing, not one to be left behind, marketed a 127-seat version of the Douglas DC-9 called the Boeing 717, which didn't compete. Airbus offered up the Airbus A318, a 106-seat miniaturization of the Airbus A320, which was only slightly more successful. Somehow, the Canadians and Brazilians had almost completely seized this market, which many believe to be the future of air transportation. British Aerospace and Fairchild Dornier have since built their own entries in the field, but not unlike Microsoft and Apple, Bombardier and Embraer have built an oligopoly out of something that wasn't entirely theirs in the first place. Mitsubishi and AVIC are also planning to develop RJ's in the near future, as many see the market as the undoing of Boeing and Airbus's dominance of airliner manufacturing.
Current regional jets include:
Fokker F.28 Fellowship
Fairchild Dornier 328Jet
Fairchild Dornier 728Jet
Russian Regional Jet