TAME, Ecuador's state owned airline, plans to lease up to three Airbus A330 aircraft, one of which will be used to launch a new nonstop route between Quito and New York's John F. Kennedy (JFK) airport.
Speaking on the sidelines of the ALTA Airline Leaders Forum in Panama City, TAME chief executive Rafael Farias tells Flightglobal that the airline will take its first A330 in early 2013, with which it will launch a new nonstop route to New York.
"The decision to incorporate widebody aircraft to our fleet is a huge strategic move as TAME has never before operated widebodies nor served long-haul markets," Farias says. "Our shareholder [the Ecuadorian state] has already approved the negotiations for the first aircraft. Our strategic plan calls for two more aircraft, which I expect to get approved during the next two weeks."
Negotiations are on-going with several lessors, he says.
TAME will launch New York flights in May 2013 from Quito's new international airport, which will open for commercial operations in February 2013.
Farias declines to reveal other new destinations. "They will all be new destinations previously not served with nonstop flights from Ecuador," he says, explaining that this will entitle the flights to benefit from a 40% fuel subsidiary, which the Ecuadorian government offers to operators of new routes.
Asked if the new long-haul flights would require building up a hub at Quito to feed the A330 operations, Farias says that, while this is ultimately the plan, he wants to first observe the performance of the new airport of Quito.
"In theory, at the new airport we will no longer have any of the altitude related weight penalties of the current airport, but until we see its real life performance and frequency of meteorological restrictions we cannot take a decision," he says. "Guayaquil has very few disruptions caused by weather while the current Quito airport closes quite frequently due to low visibility. Quito is of course the preferred location for our future hub, but we have not discarded to use Guayaquil."
In the 1990s, Farias was responsible for the development of a highly successful North-South hub operation in Guayaquil by Saeta, which was then one of the principal airlines and first Airbus operators in the region. Since Saeta's bankruptcy Copa has vastly accelerated the growth of its similarly structured hub in Panama.
Tame operates a fleet of Airbus A320 family jets, ATR turboprops, and Embraer 170s and 190s. Since Farias' appointment as TAME's first civilian chief executive last year, the airline has recovered its position as Ecuador's largest airline, while LAN Ecuador and Avianca subsidiary Aerogal have lost market share. Tame has has also embarked in an ambitious international expansion, adding in recent months Lima, Panama, Bogota, Caracas and Havana to its network.