ALTA 2010: Uruguay's Pluna eyes three new Brazilian routes

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Uruguay's Pluna is looking at launching service to three new Brazilian destinations as part of the next phase of its expansion plan.

Pluna president Matias Campiani says the carrier is evaluating Belo Horizonte, Brasilia and Campinas as potential new destinations. Six of the 12 cities in Pluna's current network are already Brazilian and Campiani says the carrier is looking to direct more capacity to Brazil in response to growing demand for Brazil-Uruguay services.

"It's a big market and it's growing fast," Campiani says, adding fast economic growth in Brazil and the strengthening of its local currency is leading to more Brazilians travelling to Uruguay.

Pluna is looking to grow its network after taking delivery of three additional CRJ900s in the last two months. Campiani says Pluna will end the year with 10 CRJ900s under its operating certificate, compared to the six CRJ900s it was operating most of this year.

So far Pluna has used the additional capacity to add frequencies on existing routes. Last month Pluna added a second daily flight to Rio de Janeiro and upgraded its flights to two other Brazilian cities - Curitiba and Porto Alegre - to daily.

It also now serves Sao Paulo three times per day and operates seasonal flights to two Brazilian leisure destinations - Florianopolis and Foz de Iguaçu.

"Our strategy is to increase frequencies to existing destinations and we will also open new ones," Campiani told ATI sister publication Airline Business in an interview last week.

Campiani says Belo Horizonte, Brasilia and Campinas are all business destinations and would be served with at least five flights per week. He says Pluna is now serving all its business routes at least once every weekday as it strives to provide a better product to business travellers. He says as part of its current expansion Pluna is also now in the process of introducing a second bank at its Montevideo hub which will result in more frequent service on key city pairs.

Pluna since privatising in 2007 has focused on offering convenient and quick connections between Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Paraguay.

Campiani says Pluna doesn't serve some of its business destinations during the weekend and is increasingly using the extra capacity it has on weekends to operate charters. During the Southern Hemisphere summer peak season it also redirects a lot of its capacity to scheduled leisure routes including Buenos Aires to Uruguayan beach resort Punta del Este. For this reason Pluna will wait until March or April, which is the conclusion of the peak season for Punta del Este, to launch its new Brazilian routes.

Currently no carrier links Belo Horizonte, Brasilia or Campinas with Montevideo, according to Innovata. Pluna currently only faces competition on two of its Brazilian routes - Sao Paulo, which is served by TAM and Gol, and Porto Alegre, which is served by Gol.

Pluna also codeshares with TAM. Campiani says this codeshare currently only covers the Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro routes, where long-haul connections are available to Pluna passengers. But he hopes the codeshare could be extended at some point to include Pluna's other Brazilian routes.

Pluna's Brazilian expansion comes as the carrier has been thwarted in its attempts to expand in Argentina. Pluna currently only serves two cities in Argentina - Buenos Aires and Cordoba. Last year Pluna had to drop a planned new service to Trelew in Argentina after authorisations were revoked at the last second, and in July for similar reasons it had to drop its new Barliloche service shortly after launching flights.

"It's been difficult for us to go to Argentina but we see huge demands form the Brazilian side," Campiani says.