By John Schmeltzer
Tribune Staff Writer
May 17, 2000

The regional affiliate of American Airlines is to announce Wednesday that the remaining turboprop aircraft linking 11 cities to O'Hare International Airport will be replaced by regional jets by early November.

American Eagle will switch Evansville, Ind., and Green Bay to regional jet service July 3. Evansville will be served by a 50-seat jet, while Green Bay will be served by a 37-seat plane. The two cities now are served by a mix of turboprops and regional jets.

American Eagle will begin flying only jets to Madison, Wis., and Milwaukee on Aug. 19. Those cities also are served now by regional jets and turboprops.

Two other cities, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Peoria, which currently receive a mix of service, will become all-jet Nov. 2.

Five other cities--Bloomington, Ill.; Urbana/Champaign; Dubuque, Iowa; South Bend, Ind.; and Traverse City, Mich.--which currently are served only by turboprops, will begin the jet conversion process later this year. The conversion will be completed Nov. 2, the airline said.

American Eagle at O'Hare serves 33 cities, 22 of which are now served by regional jets.

American's announcement puts additional pressure on Elk Grove Township-based United Airlines to hammer out an agreement with its pilots that will allow its commuter affiliates to operate more regional jets.

Currently, the five United Express carriers that operate commuter service for United can fly only a total of 60 regional jets. Only one of those five, Atlantic Coast Airlines, has invested heavily in the new aircraft.

Who flies the regional jet--mainline pilots earn considerably more than their commuter counterparts--has emerged as a major stumbling block in talks because the planes can fly more than 1,500 miles.

American Airlines pilots two years ago agreed to allow American Eagle to operate 67 regional jets with more than 45 seats and an unlimited number of smaller 37-seat planes.

American Eagle also said it will add an additional flight between O'Hare and Urbana-Champaign and Peoria, making six. The carrier said Dubuque, which has three round trips each day, also will get an additional flight.

While the airline industry insists the turboprop planes are just as safe as the regional jets, most customers prefer the jets because they are quieter, faster and can fly above most storms rather than through them.