Aerolineas remains focused on fleet renewal

This story is sourced from Pro
See more Pro news »

A major fleet revamp continues at Aerolineas Argentinas as its tenth Airbus A340-300 was delivered on 9 January and the eleventh aircraft is scheduled for delivery next month.

The introduction of Next Generation Boeing 737-800s also constitutes a key part of the airline's fleet renewal plans, according to carrier VP fleet planning and financial restructuring Sergio García Gómez, who revealed that the airline recently closed a contract for two brand new 737-800s to be leased from AWAS in September this year. After Aerolineas recently completed the purchase of 20 Embraer E-190 aircraft, it has been suggested that further Embraer acquisitions could be a possibility.

The airline's tenth A340-300 delivery (MSN 126) is the second of three former Cathay Pacific aircraft to be operated through six year lease agreements with ICON and Wells Fargo; the first (MSN 123) having arrived in December. In addition to the imminent arrival of the third A340 (MSN 128) in February, an ex-Air France A340-300 (MSN 373) was delivered by ILFC in December, García Gómez said.

It is intended that the A340s will homogenize the fleet and replace the airline's 747-400s; one of which is already in storage and the remaining two will be retired by 1 February. Aerolineas plans to operate 15 widebodies by 2014.

In terms of narrowbodies, an initial four 737-800s will complement Aerolineas's current fleet of 15 Boeing NGs, which it is aiming to increase to 38 aircraft by 2014. In addition to the two new 737-800s arriving in September, the airline began leasing a 2001 vintage former Air Berlin 737-800 (MSN 30570) from Macquarie AirFinance in December last year, with one more 2001 built ex-Air Berlin 737-800 (MSN 30478), being delivered by Macquarie later this month.

Aerolineas is set to receive seven more 737-700s from ILFC during the course of 2012 as part of a ten-aircraft deal that saw three other 737-700s delivered last year. The airline, which has full ownership of two of its 737-700s, had a further 10 delivered by GECAS between 2009 and 2010.

The plethora of new deliveries dovetails with several of the airline's lease agreements which are due to expire. "Many of our 737-500s are coming off their leases and we aim to have retired all 17 of them by 1 April this year," García Gómez said. The airline's 18 737-200s have already been retired and redelivered in 2009 and 2010.

The replacement process has not been without its challenges, acknowledged García Gómez, who explained that in certain cases the airline had to negotiate early termination agreements with relevant lessors. Aerolineas views the collaboration of individual lessors as paramount to shaping the successful turnaround of the airline. "We are in the middle of the river, not on the other side yet," noted García Gómez, adding that he was keen to limit the number of lessors, in contrast with the seven firms involved in leasing the airline's 737 500s.

"We want to cooperate with lessors that understand the importance of timing and possess the ability to find technical solutions to returning aircraft, as well as being able to supply us with new aircraft," García Gómez said. 2012 will be a year of returning older aircraft and gradually introducing newer models, he noted.

The 20 fully-owned Embraer E-190s operated by Austral Lineas Aireas, the domestic carrier of the Aerolineas Argentinas Group, have ensured the airline is on track with its plans to replace its ageing Boeing MD-80 aircraft. Nine of the Brazilian jets were purchased in 2010 and 11 last year through a 12-year export credit financing agreement with Brazilian state bank BNDES. Initially the aircraft will be deployed on domestic routes, before gradually being integrated on routes to neighbouring countries, García Gómez said.

Aerolineas aims to have withdrawn all 25 of its MD-80s by 1 April. Similar to the 737 500s, many of the leases are due expire in 2012, according to García Gómez. "We retired seven of them last year and are currently in discussions with a number of the lessors involved to return a further seven," he said.

The airline has already received interest for some of the 11 MD-80s it owns outright, García Gómez explained, "either in the aircraft itself or parts of the aircraft". The group will be "considering alternatives over the next few months," he said.

The airline's renewed objectives centre on the commonality, efficiency and modernity of its fleet, which currently fly across Europe, North America, New Zealand, Australia and Latin America. It is understood to be in the process of considering restarting flights from New York John F Kennedy and Charles de Gaulle airports.