Avianca delays CSeries decision, accelerates Fokker 100 retirements

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Latin American airline group Avianca-TACA has dramatically accelerated plans for phasing out of its Fokker 100 fleet and is now preparing to replace next year all 15 of the Fokker 100s at its Colombian operation.

Avianca-TACA CEO Fabio Villegas says the group has dropped previous plans to select by the end of 2010 a new 100-seat aircraft to replace the group's fleet of 29 Fokker 100s in about 2014 and is instead acquiring additional Airbus A320 family aircraft that will allow a speedy replacement of 15 Fokker 100s next year. The decision to not acquire a new-generation 100-seater is a blow to Bombardier, which had considered Avianca a potential early customer for its CSeries, as well as Mitsubishi and Sukhoi, which had also responded to a request for proposals that was originally issued in the third quarter of 2009 by then independent Avianca.

Villegas says the additional Airbus A320 aircraft being acquired to replace the 15 Fokker 100s operated by Avianca's Colombian operation are part of a new and significantly expanded 2011 fleet plan for Avianca-TACA. The revised 2011 fleet plan includes three additional Airbus A330s and one additional Embraer E-190, as previously planned. But the A320 portion of this fleet plan has been expanded from the original seven or eight new aircraft which are to be delivered in 2011 from Avianca-TACA's outstanding order book to also include 10 A320 family aircraft that will be sourced from the second-hand leasing market.

Avianca-TACA expects to reveal within the next few weeks which type of A320 family aircraft these are and what lessor or lessors are providing these additional aircraft.

Speaking to ATI and Flightglobal at a Star Alliance event in Miami yesterday, Villegas says Avianca decided to accelerate the phase out of its Fokker 100s after determining it "needed to invest a huge amount of money to go for an additional cycle of that fleet". Avianca acquired 29 Fokker 100s from American Airlines in 2005. The other 14 aircraft are now operated by sister carrier Avianca Brazil, previously known as OceanAir, where they will continue to be operated. Avianca Brazil chief Jose Efromovich says a replacement decision for these aircraft is expected in two to three years.

Villegas says while a selection has been delayed significantly Avianca-TACA will continue to evaluate the CSeries, MRJ and Superjet as the group still has a medium to long-term requirement for new-generation aircraft in this size category. Villegas sees the acquisition of second-hand Airbus A320 family aircraft as an interim solution for Avianca's Fokker 100 routes and these aircraft could end up being replaced with new-generation aircraft in 2016 or 2017.

In addition to phasing out the Fokker 100s at its Colombian operation, the Avianca-TACA group's 2011 fleet plan has Avianca's last three Boeing MD-80s exiting the fleet in the first quarter. Avianca had been planning to retire its last MD-80s early this year but Villegas says the aircraft were extended as there was a need for more domestic capacity.

The 2011 fleet plan also has Avianca's last two 767 passenger aircraft exiting the fleet. These will be replaced by the additional A330s, completing the first phase of Avianca-TACA's widebody fleet renewal programme, which eventually envisions the A330s being replaced by Boeing 787s.

In addition to launching an evaluation of new 100-seat passenger aircraft, Avianca also was looking last year at potential new turboprops. But Villegas says Avianca-TACA has decided to continue operating its Fokker 50s and ATR 42s after determining "there's no better alternative". Avianca has 10 Fokker 50s operating in Colombia while the group's ATR 42 fleet is operated in Central America under the TACA Regional banner.