Avianca poised to become early CSeries or MRJ customer

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Colombia's Avianca could emerge as an early customer for the Bombardier CSeries or Mitsubishi Regional Jet as it looks to acquire 20 to 25 Fokker 100 replacements from about 2014.

Avianca chief executive Fabio Villegas says the carrier is "putting together a request for proposal so we can wage a competition" between "new new-generation" 100-seat aircraft. Avianca operates 15 Fokker 100s and Brazilian sister carrier OceanAir has another 14.

Villegas says about half of OceanAir's Fokker 100s will be replaced by Airbus A319s. But he says the A319 is not the right aircraft to replace all of them, or any of Avianca's Fokker 100 fleet.

Avianca and OceanAir parent Synergy Group acquired the 29 aircraft from American Airlines in 2005 and Villegas says there is no interest in replacing the aircraft in the near-term with 100-seat aircraft models currently in production, such as Bombardier CRJ1000s or Embraer 190s.

"If you look at the numbers for the Fokker 100 you will find it's quite an economical aircraft. Of course it will consume a little more fuel than the modern aircraft of that size and the maintenance cost will be higher, but the capital cost is absolutely very much less," he says.

"We don't see the necessity from a financial perspective to hurry into a new fleet for that particular [type]."

But he adds that the emergence of the CSeries and MRJ pose an "additional issue", and Villegas cites the manufacturer's claims of higher efficiency in the 100-seat sector.

"So if we can wait for that to happen it's the right thing to do," he states, adding that Avianca will soon begin formally evaluating both the CSeries and MRJ.

mrj

Villegas says the carrier has not yet decided when it will make a selection but will consider placing an early order. Bombardier and Mitsubishi are eagerly trying to secure second airline customers following initial orders from Lufthansa and All Nippon Airways, respectively.

"We are putting together a plan to replace the Fokker 100 in five to six years. We'll start working on that now," Villegas says.

Avianca is also starting to look at possible replacements for its 10 Fokker 50 turboprops. Villegas says the carrier's options for this fleet are more limited because it plans to stick with 50-seaters rather than grow into new-generation 70-seat turboprops.

Villegas says the Fokker 50 is "reliable" and adds: "In terms of cost there's no alternative. But together with the Fokker 100, we're working on how to replace the Fokker 50. We'll have to do it because there will be a point where it is very difficult to maintain."

Acquiring Fokker 50 and 100 replacements will represent the last leg in the renewal of Avianca's fleet. The carrier will complete replacing its Boeing MD-80s and 757s with Airbus A320s next year.

Over the last year it has replaced some of its Boeing 767s with five new Airbus A330s but is waiting for its first batch of Boeing 787s to finish replacing the remaining 767s.