Air Niugini outlines regional fleet plans

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Papua New Guinea's Air Niugini is toying with the idea of adding a Fokker 70 rather than getting an additional Fokker 100 as earlier planned but it is also adamant it is in no hurry to expand its Fokker fleet because it has a wet-lease on an Embraer ERJ-145.

On 7 July the carrier added an ERJ-145 on a three-month wet-lease from Australian carrier SkyAirWorld and a source at the airline tells ATI today that the carrier has decided to extend the wet-lease through to the end of January.

The airline is using the ERJ-145 for a double-daily service on the Port Moresby-Cairns route.

It also needs the ERJ-145 because some of its Fokker 100s that might otherwise be used on the route are set to undergo heavy maintenance checks in the coming months, says the source.

Air Niugini for some months has been looking to purchase a seventh Fokker 100. The source says this is still the case but it might decide to get a Fokker 70 instead.

This is because the Fokker 70 has more range than the Fokker 100 although overall the Fokker 100 is still the preferred choice because it seats 30 more passengers, says the source.

The source is adamant the carrier is in no hurry to buy a seventh Fokker because it can always use wet-leased Embraer aircraft.

Air Niugini also wet-leases an Embraer 190 from SkyAirWorld for services from Port Moresby to Sydney.

The carrier has received positive feedback from passengers about the E-190, says the source, adding that "the E-190 is quite a nice ride". But the ERJ-145 is less popular with passengers, says the source.

One issue Air Niugini has with the aircraft is the shortage of luggage space in the bellyhold.

"People coming into Port Moresby tend to carry a lot of luggage," says the source.

"They are not coming in with an overnight bag and instead they tend to come in with boxes and boxes of stuff," adds the source, who says the aircraft is usually full.

In addition to six Fokker 100s and the two wet-leased Embraer aircraft, the carrier also has Bombardier Dash 8s, a Boeing 757 and a Boeing 767.

Longer-term the carrier plans to eventually phase out its Fokker aircraft, says the source, adding that this is likely to occur in seven to eight years.

The problem Air Niugini faces is the Fokker 100 is "very difficult to replace".

Ideally the carrier wants an aircraft with almost as much bellyhold space as a Boeing 737 but with capacity to carry 90 passengers, says the source, adding that there are no aircraft on the market that fulfil those criteria.

Air Niugini has looked at the Mitsubishi Regional Jet "but it is a long ways into the future" and it is an aircraft that is more ideally suited to the American commuter market.

Mitsubishi Aircraft is aiming for entry into service in 2013.