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BUSINESS SOARS 8% IN 1 YEAR FOR NATION'S REGIONAL AIRLINES

Business is growing for the nation's regional airlines, which carried 57 million passengers last year - 8 percent more than the year before.

Paying passengers were carried more than 12 billion miles in 1994, up 13 percent, and the average load was 51 percent of available seats, up 3 percent, the Regional Airline Association reported Thursday.Regional carriers are distinguished from the larger national airlines by serving more limited areas and generally having revenues under $100 million. They often operate in cooperation with larger carriers, using those airlines' names and feeding regional passengers to their hub airports.

There are more than 50 regional airlines, operating 2,172 planes and flying to 806 communities across the country.

The largest is Flagship Airlines, which carried 4.6 million passengers under the American Eagle name last year, the report said. Second was Simmons Airlines, also operating under the American Eagle name, which carried 4.5 million passengers.

Rounding out the top five were Continental Express, 3.9 million passengers; Horizon Air Industries, serving Alaska Airlines, 3.3 million; and Comair, carrying regional passengers for Delta, 3.3 million.

The Beech 1900 was the most commonly used regional airplane with 262 planes carrying 9.7 percent of regional passengers. The larger Saab 340 carried the most people, though, at 13.6 percent, with 211 planes in use.

Other widely used regional planes were the Embraer Brasilia, 219 planes, 12.8 percent of passengers; Jetstream, 207 planes, 7.6 percent of passengers; and Dash 8-100, 135 planes, 9.7 percent of passengers.