ALTA: VivaColombia plans fleet decision by year-end

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Colombian low-cost carrier VivaColombia plans to decide by year-end on an expansion of its Airbus A320 fleet.

The Medellin-based carrier operates a fleet of five A320s and is looking to lease more, says executive chairman Juan Emilio Posada. "We will continue working along the lines of an Airbus fleet with CFM engines," he says.

Posada declines to specify the number of aircraft VivaColombia will add, pending a board meeting, but says the additional jets will help VivaColombia expand both domestically and internationally.

VivaColombia has applied to launch its first international routes from Medellin to Cancun, Mexico City and Panama City. Posada says the carrier is still in the process of securing formal approvals for the routes but expects them to launch in mid-2014. "We don't foresee any problems," he says.

The airline will likely look at leasing used A320s instead of purchasing new aircraft. "But it all depends on the costs," says Posada.

The airline made headlines recently when it appointed former Spirit Airlines chief marketing officer Barry Biffle as chief executive. Biffle had worked at Spirit since 2005 and was picked after an extensive executive search by VivaColombia.

With Irelandia Aviation among its investors, VivaColombia launched operations in May 2012 and is now the third-placed carrier in the domestic market with a 9% market share. Posada says the domestic market has grown by 20% since VivaColombia's launch, which has helped to stimulate traffic growth. "We have done this through our lower fares and the fares that our competitors have reduced in response to us," he says.

Avianca remains the market leader in Colombia. LAN Colombia, the Bogota-based subsidiary of LATAM Airlines Group, is in second place.