Aerolineas Argentinas is preparing to lease 13 Airbus widebodies should it fail to conclude a deal to purchase 13 A330/A340s originally ordered by former owner Marsans.
The Argentinean government has been talking to Marsans and Airbus for several months about inheriting part of the order placed by Marsans in November 2008 for 61 Airbus widebodies. Aerolineas new chief commercial officer Juan Pablo Lafosse told ATI and Flightglobal during the 2009 ALTA Airline Leadership Forum these negotiations continue but the airline also has begun evaluating leasing 13 A330/A340s as an alternative.
Lafosse says Aerolineas has an urgent requirement for six A330-300s and seven A340-600s as it is planning to rebuild its international network to support a new transformation plan. He adds the carrier wants to begin adding the aircraft in February, and take all 13 aircraft within 14 to 16 months.
Lafosse says Aerolineas will lease the aircraft if a deal with Marsans, which had ordered the aircraft with the intention of spreading them around Aerolineas and its other airline subsidiaries, cannot be forged. He says Aerolineas is now looking at the lease option and evaluating whether leases may financially be a better alternative than inheriting part of the Marsans order.
"Everyone thinks it [inheriting part of the Marsans order] is the most diplomatic solution and we want the airplanes. But maybe now is not the right time to buy," Lafosse says. "We're not sure it's now is the right time to buy."
He explains third-parties have agreed finance the 13 aircraft if a deal with Marsans can be concluded but low lease rates now make leasing a potentially more attractive option. "There are so many aircraft on the market and they are so cheap," Lafosse says, adding he believes lease rates for A330s have come down 50% over the last two years and are now about $350,000 per month.
Lafosse says the Argentinean government, which fought with Marsans over the value of Aerolineas when it decided to re-nationalise the carrier last year, is not legally required to take any aircraft from the Marsans order. But he acknowledges settling the government's ongoing dispute with Marsans by agreeing to takeover part of the order would be an ideal compromise.
It appeared a deal was close to finally being completed last month but instead negotiations, which have been ongoing for several months, continue. "It's not complete for any side. We're still in negotiations," Lafosse says.
He adds Aerolineas had been hoping to take the first aircraft from the Marsans settlement in November but that is no longer possible. He says three of the A330s from the part of the order earmarked for Aerolineas have already been built and are ready to be delivered if a deal can be concluded. "It's quite political. The government drives it but it is based on our recommendations," Lafosse says.
The carrier's recommendation specifies six A330-300s and seven A340-600s. Lafosse says Aerolineas plans to use the new aircraft mainly to launch new routes and supplement its fleet of six A340s. He says the carrier's three 747s will be phased out but nearly all 13 aircraft are considered growth aircraft as the utilisation rate on Aerolineas' 747s are currently very low.
Aerolineas has scaled back its long-haul network considerably over the last several years. Outside of South America the carrier now only serves Miami, Madrid, Barcelona and Rome.
Lafosse says Aerolneas' new business plan calls for the resumption of services to New York, Paris, London, Johannesburg, Mexico City, Cancun, Havana and Puerto Plata. He says Aerolineas also plans to launch service to Orlando.
Lafosse estimates the new routes should be launched by mid 2011 but South Africa is particularly a priority and Aerolineas aims to resume serving the country prior to the start of the 2010 World Cup.
Lafosse says Aerolineas also plans to use the additional A330s and A340s to add capacity to Barcelona, Madrid and Rome. He says its Barcelona service will increase to daily from thrice weekly and its Rome service will also "probably" increase from thrice weekly to daily. Aerolineas already serves Madrid daily but Lafosse says the carrier would like to add a second flight for at least some days of the week.