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Regional Jets: A More Efficient Way to Fly

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MONTREAL, CANADA — A new type of jetliner is changing the way passengers fly.Regional jetsare smaller and more efficient than larger planes.

The Triangle'sMidway Airlinesis switching to the new planes. ReporterTom Lawrencewent to Canada to see how the planes are built, and what they mean for the future of flying.

Most people probably have seen them on the runways and paid no attention. The 50 passenger Canadair regional jets are in demand by airlines around the world. They are smaller, and have fewer seats, which means they provide pure jet travel at lower cost to the carriers.

"So with the combination of the business community and the leisure market we can service, this airplane is really ideal," Airline Analyst Mark Gilbert said.

Bombardier, which owns Canadair, builds the planes alongside their popular corporate jets. There are 3,000 people working in teams are meticulous in each step of the four month assembly of every plane.

Hundreds of CRJs, as they are called, have rolled off the Canadian assembly line including Midway Airlines' two newest planes. Major carriers use big planes traveling coast to coast.

"But what they're also looking at is the ability to feed those airplanes," Gilbert said. "If they can bring those people into their hubs, and directly into their hubs without having to go two or three stops, then that's adding to their capacity."

One jet rolls off the assembly line every four days helping to meet the demands of the growing regional airline industry.

"In the last couple of years sales have been quite enormous," Gilbert said. "We're looking right now with actual sales and options of over 500 aircraft."

Midway Airlines, which will have twenty CRJs by the end of next year, will add destinations and more flights.

"Adding cities is nice, but the ability to offer frequency for business travelers is critical," Senior Vice-President of Midway Airlines Mark Coleman said.

Midway has added Indianapolis to itsschedule, and with a $110 million financing package will be able to bring the CRJs into service as it turns in its older and bigger Fokker planes.

"We've been in some ways fortunate to be on the leading edge of the new technology," Coleman said. "We happen to be in the perfect market to demonstrate the viability."

Coleman says business travelers compare the CRJ to corporate jets. Passengers enjoy leather seats, meal service and quick baggage handling. CRJ flight crews like them, but how will crews of larger planes feel about "stepping down" to the CRJ?

"Sure, everybody would like to fly the big ones," Coleman said. "But I think they recognize it's a good, solid company and a great area and that's far more important over the long term."

Last week, Midway Airlines agreed to take seven moreCRJ'sadding to the six already in service. Their newest plane was delivered last week, with another due this week. Bombardier will soon build a 70 passenger version of the CRJ, but Midway has no plans to add those to its fleet.

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Tom Lawrence, Reporter
Terry Cantrell, Photographer
Jason Darwin, Web Editor

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