Aires looks to launch several new international routes

Miami
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Colombia's Aires aims to launch several new international routes - including to Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Paraguay and Peru - as part of the next phase of its expansion plan.

Fort Lauderdale is currently Aires' only medium-haul international destination. But carrier has set a 25 June launch date for launching service to New York JFK and has secured traffic rights for several new medium-haul international destinations throughout the Americas.

Aires chairman Pedro Nino confirms Aires has secured approval from Colombian authorities to serve Asuncion, Cancun, Lima, Sao Paulo and Toronto from Bogota. He says Aires, which also has been looking at launching shorter-haul international services to Guayaquil and Quito in neighbouring Ecuador, hopes to eventually launch all these medium-haul routes and start at least one this year.

But Nino adds the launch dates and which route will be launched first will depend on when final approvals are secured from the relevant foreign governments. "It doesn't depend on us," Nino told ATI on the sidelines of last week's Low Cost Airlines World Americas conference in Miami.

He adds Aires is seeking authorities from several countries at once because it is impossible to predict how long it may take to launch the requested services. "We have a lot of options," he says.

Aires currently operates a fleet of 10 737-700s and 11 Bombardier Dash 8 Q200s with four Dash 8 Q400s slated to enter service this summer. The 737-700s are being used on domestic trunk routes and to the US while the Dash 8s are being used on regional domestic routes and to Panama City in Panama, Maracaibo in Venezuela and Aruba and Curacao in the Caribbean. The Q400s are to initially be used on regional domestic routes during peak hours and on domestic trunk routes during off-peak hours although Aires plans to also later use the type on Caribbean routes.

Nino says Aires has not committed to further expanding its fleet although more 737-700s are likely over the medium-term. He says Aires is able to launch several medium-haul international routes without increasing its 737-700 fleet by increasing utilisation and redeploying some of the 737s now used on domestic routes. The New York route, for example, will be operated at night, helping push up average utilisation for the 737 fleet.

Aires, which has its roots as a regional airline, only began operating 737-700s in February 2009. It launched services to Fort Lauderdale last November, initially operating one daily flight from Bogota. It has since expanded its Fort Lauderdale operation to 18 weekly flights and is now serving the south Florida airport from Bogota, Barranquilla and Cali. Nino says its Fort Lauderdale operation will be further expanded to 24 weekly flights later this month after service from Cartagena is launched.

Nino says Aires is limited at pursuing further expansion at Fort Lauderdale as it is now fully utilising traffic rights available under the Colombia-US bilateral. The bilateral caps the numbers of flights to Colombia's major destinations including Bogota, Barranquilla and Cali although smaller cities including Cartagena are open skies destinations which Nino says could potentially be expanded.

New York will initially be served with three weekly flights from Bogota. Nino says Aires is considering opening a third US destination in the east coast but for now the focus is on adding routes to Canada and Latin America.

Nino says the west coast of the US is not an option because such flights would be outside the range of Aires' 737-700s. He says New York is at the aircraft's maximum range and Aires will have to implement "a small limitation on bags" in order to operate the flight.