Qantas will begin flying the Embraer E190 on regional routes under a three-year partnership with Alliance Airlines.
The 'wet lease' agreement – under which Alliance will also crew the aircraft – will initially cover three of Alliance's E-jets, with scope to expand to a total of 14 depending on market conditions.
Qantas expects to schedule the Alliance E190s from June 2021 on routes such as Adelaide–Alice Springs, Darwin–Alice Springs and Darwin–Adelaide, as the first three E-jets will be based in Adelaide and Darwin.
The Boeing 737s which currently fly these routes will be relocated to other parts of the domestic Qantas network in what the airline describes as an ongoing ‘right aircraft, right route’ approach.
Alliance's E190s will offer 10 seats in business class and 84 in economy, and are seen as sitting in a 'sweet spot' between the Boeing 717 and Boeing 737.
"The E190 is a perfect mid-size regional jet for routes like these ones in northern Australia," says QantasLink CEO John Gissing.
"It has longer range than our 717s and it’s about half the size of our 737s, which means the economics work well on longer flights between cities and towns outside of the top five population centres."
Gissing also suggests that the E-190, being a better fit against demand, will mean that "instead of one or two flights a day with a larger aircraft, we can offer three or four flights a day on the E190, which gives customers in these cities a lot more choice about when they travel."
There's also a chance that some of Qantas' international pilots and crew will work on the nimble 94-seat jets.
"Importantly, Alliance is keen to provide the opportunity for our international pilots and cabin crew to operate the E190s given it will be some time before overseas markets fully recover," Gissing says.
Qantas owns just under 20 per cent of Alliance Airlines, which also maintains a regional flying contract with Virgin Australia.
Virgin Australia used to fly 15 of its own E190s across a range of capital city and capital-regional routes until the jets were retired in February 2018 as part of a cost-saving and fleet simplification drive.
Those jets sported the same 1-2 business class layout as travellers will experience on the Alliance E-jets, which have come from Panama's Copa Airlines and offer 10 seats in the business class cabin: 1A sits in a row of its own, and is followed by three rows of 1-2.
Photos and review: Virgin Australia's new Embraer E190 business class