THE LATEST versions of narrowbodies from manufacturing powerhouses Airbus and Boeing come in three sizes, but no one seems to be too interested in the smallest.
Both designs are targeting the 100-149 seat market segment, a seemingly huge target with current worldwide fleet numbers exceeding 3000. Airlines, however, seem reluctant to order replacements on a like-for-like basis.
Low cost giant Southwest has 549 737-300/500/700s in this seat class with orders for 189 more. Originally more had been ordered, but then swapped for the larger -800 model seating 175 passengers. Plans are in place to swap more of the -700s on order for their larger sibling. Meanwhilst, Southwest has only ordered the -8 version of the MAX, indicating that older classic and NG models will be replaced with larger modern ones.
The only A319neo orders comes from Qatar Airways (6) and Republic Airways (20, reduced from the original 40 ordered). Other current A319 operators such as Virgin America and Lufthansa have forgone the idea of an A319neo when placing their orders.
It has been suggested that the Cost per seat mile (CASM) for these models is less attractive than larger models when compared to the airfcraft they will replace. Simply put; the longer the fuselage when using the same wing, the better… providing range is not sacrificed. This can also be seen outside of the narrowbody arena, with the A350-800 numbers seemingly peaked with the last order coming from Tunisair in July 2008, and now dwindling. The 787-8 has fared better, however the stretched -9 model is catching up, having been the preferred model in recent years.
It would seem that commercial aviation see limited prospects for the 135 seat plane, for the time being at least. Time for Embraer to bring something to the table?