There could soon be a new United Express operator flying the popular Embraer 175 regional jet.
CommuteAir, which operates flights for United Airlines out of its hubs at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston (IAH), Denver International Airport (DEN) and Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD), disclosed the plans this week in a filing with the U.S. Department of Transportation.
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The airline, formerly known as CommutAir, is currently the sole operator of the Embraer 145 for United Express. In 2020, United ended its flying agreements with two other E145 operators: Trans States Airlines and ExpressJet. United is a 40% owner of the Ohio-based regional carrier.
For now, CommuteAir told DOT that it plans to add the 76-seat jets in a limited capacity. It will be a single aircraft, for now, in use for training and “limited charter services.” The filing also revealed that CommuteAir has been working with the Federal Aviation Administration since July to add the larger Embraer jet to its operating certificate.
The DOT filing is a procedural step that will allow the company to operate aircraft with more than 60 seats, the company said.
“We are excited about this opportunity to grow and modernize our fleet and look forward to working with the DOT on our application,” CommuteAir CEO Rick Hoefling said in a statement.
In the context of United’s regional strategy, CommuteAir’s move is not unexpected.
Last year, the Chicago-based carrier announced United Next, an initiative that will see the airline largely move away from 50-seat jets like the type CommuteAir operates. These types of aircraft are unpopular with both airlines — due to higher operating costs — and with passengers, because they are small and cramped (United’s CRJ-550 is an exception and has many passenger comforts, but that’s due in large part to the fact that it’s a 70-seat jet with 50 seats in it).
The Embraer 175 is a comfortable regional jet that many passengers will likely appreciate if CommuteAir moves forward with operating these aircraft in scheduled service. In fact, it has some of the best domestic first-class seats in the skies.
CommuteAir would join United Express carriers Republic Airways, Mesa Airlines and SkyWest Airlines as Embraer 175 operators.