Airlines add bigger regional jets *** Addition may benefit local fliers

The airline industry's trend of adding regional jets should benefit Baton Rouge Metro Airport passengers with larger, more comfortable aircraft, airport Director Anthony Marino said Friday.

Instead of 50-passenger jets, local travelers will more often fly on aircraft with enough room for 70, possibly as many as 100, he said.

"I'm glad to see it," Marino said of the trend. "It's good for us, and it's good for the airlines. But it's even better for the customer."

The country's major airlines have begun updating their regional fleets with larger jets in hopes of turning a profit on regional flights that feed traffic - and typically lose money - into long-haul flights.

The newer jets have roomier cabins. The Bombardier CRJ900, for example, which Marino said Delta will use to upgrade its Baton Rouge fleet, measures just over 6 feet from floor to ceiling.

Frontier Airlines, the Denver-based discount airline set to begin offering service to Baton Rouge next month, will fly the Embraer 170 that seats up to 78 passengers.

"You'll see regional jets grow to the original size of legend carrier jets," Marino said. "They're easier to operate and more fuel efficient. The economy of scale is leaning toward regional jets."

Marino said many of the larger jets are capable of first-class sections, though Frontier doesn't offer first class because of its cheaper fares.

Baton Rouge Metro is served by four airlines, which reported 205,524 passengers, or "enplanements," from January to May.

Continental Express, which reported 65,638 enplanements through the first five months of the year, had the lion's share of the local market.

Delta was next with 58,844 enplanements, followed by American Eagle with 52,662 and Northwest with 23,380.

Figures are down from the year-ago period, when flight traffic spiked after Hurricane Katrina.

Marino said the newer jets are needed because of Baton Rouge's heavier passenger loads. He cited figures showing that local flights are taking off at or near full capacity.

He said that while full flights ensure profitability for airlines, they also signal overbooking. That translates into more inconveniences, since travelers are more frequently forced to wait for later flights.

"We'll get better service aircraft, because the loads in Baton Rouge are extremely high," Marino said. "We need larger regional jets."

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