Fly the Disruptive Skies


Mitsubishi is entering the regional jet market with their aptly designated Mitsubishi Regional Jet. This class of aircraft resembles traditional single-aisle passenger jets, namely the Boeing 737 and 717, but holds fewer passengers to facilitate smaller airports and short to mid-range routes. Bombardier and Embraer are industry leaders in this growing product segment, pushing the boundaries of regional jet size and performance with new models, linking more cities with direct jet travel.

Modern regional jets emerged in the 1990s as a disruptive innovation, per the model of Dr. Clayton Christensen. In a classic disruptive debut, these jets lacked the capabilities of then-dominant technologies—less capacity and range than standard jetliners, less fuel-efficiency than turboprops that were covering short routes at the time.

But also in the pattern of disruptive innovation, this new product fulfilled a customer need unmet by prevalent offerings. Regional jets saved time through superior speed and range over turboprops. The latter quality helped them avoid busy hub airports as they linked cities that did not accommodate larger jets, instigating direct, point-to-point routes. Embraer embraces its role in disruptive innovation, dedicating a section on its website to the concept and touting its association with Dr. Christensen’s consultancy.

The “hub-and-spoke” approach was the primary offering of major airlines, the delivery of service to smaller cities. Passengers would fly on small feeder aircraft into the hubs, transferring to other planes that would take them to their ultimate destinations. Hubs like Dallas/Fort Worth, O’Hare, and Hartfield grew busier and passengers grew more harried, negotiating airport city-states as they either raced to catch connecting flights or endured layovers.

Regional jets’ more compact size is well-suited for cities that may not generate the passenger loads that fill larger jets, allowing profitable flights in a point-to-point strategy. Airlines benefit too as point-to-point planes avoid taxiing, taking off and landing at crowded hubs, actions that burn more fuel relative to cruising. As regional jets have taken hold, the technology has improved, continuing Christensen’s disruption model as they become more comfortable and fuel-efficient, further eroding the position of larger jets and the hub-and-spoke structure.

Mark 2:21-22 (ESV)
No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.”

How can servant leadership compel Christian marketers to develop new offerings that can better satisfy customers’ needs, even if those offerings disrupt current business models?

In the first linked article, note the new routes likely to open due to increased regional jet use. How can Christian marketers use market research as a form of discernment to recognize opportunities stemming from disruptive innovation?

Aircraft photo: Alec WilsonMitsubishi Regional Jet JA22MJCC BY-SA 2.0

Clayton Christensen photo: World Economic Forum from Cologny, Switzerland, Clayton Christensen World Economic Forum 2013CC BY-SA 2.0

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