The aircraft was based on the Canadair Challenger design, which was purchased by Canadair from Bill Lear in 1976.
The wide fuselage of the Challenger which seats 2 passengers on each side of the aisle suggested early on to Canadair officials that it would be straightforward to stretch the aircraft to accomomodate more seats, and there was a plan for a Challenger 610E, which would have had seating for 24 passengers. That lengthening did not occur, the effort being canceled in 1981, but the idea did not disappear.
In 1987, studies began for a much more ambitious stretched configuration, leading to the formal launch of the Canadair Regional Jet program in the spring of 1989. The “Canadair” name was retained despite the fact that Bombardier had bought out the company. The first of three development machines for the initial CRJ100 performed its first flight on 10 May 1991, though the first prototype (C-FCRJ) was lost in a spin mishap on July 26, 1993 near Wichita, Kansas. The type obtained certification in late 1992, with initial delivery to customers late in that year.
The CRJ200 is identical to the 100 model except for more efficient engines.
Pinnacle Airlines had operated some with 44 seats, designated as CRJ440, with closets in the forward areas of the passenger cabin though these were converted to 50 seat airplanes. These modifications were designed to allow operations under their major airline contract “scope clause” which restricts major airlines’ connection carriers from operating equipment carrying 50 or more passengers to guard against usurpation of Air Line Pilots Association and Allied Pilots Association pilots’ union contract. Similarly, Comair’s fleet of 40-seat CRJ200s were sold at a discounted price to discourage Comair from purchasing the less expensive and smaller Embraer 135.
There is also a CRJ200 freighter version which is designated CRJ200 PF (Package Freighter) which was developed in cooperation withCascade Aerospace on the request of West Air Sweden.