Azul to begin ATR 72 operations in March with leased -200s

Washington DC
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Brazilian low-cost carrier Azul has accelerated the introduction of ATR 72 turboprops by agreeing to lease three ATR 72-200s prior to taking its first ATR 72-600.

Azul last year placed orders for 20 ATR 72-600s plus 20 options to supplement the carrier's fast-growing fleet of Embraer E-190/195s. In a recent statement Azul says the carrier's ATR 72-600s will begin arriving in the second half of this year but in the interim the carrier has agreed to lease three older-model ATR 72-200s.

Azul says the ATR 72-200 will join its fleet on 1 March and operate from its Sao Paulo Campinas base to Sao Jose do Rio Preto and Ribeirao Preto. Both new routes will be operated with five daily flights.

Azul says Sao Jose do Rio Preto and Ribeirao Preto are part of a major expansion plan for 2011 which will see the carrier's network expand by more than 20 cities. Azul currently serves 29 destinations with a fleet of 10 E-190s and 17 E-195s.

Earlier this month Azul also unveiled plans to add Rio de Janeiro Galeao and Foz do Iguaçu as new jet destinations. Azul is taking delivery this year of an average of one additional E-195 per month.

Flights to Galeao will begin on 1 February and complement existing services from Rio de Janeiro's slot constrained downtown airport, Santos Dumont. Azul will initially operate five daily flights to Galeao from its Campinas base. The carrier already operates 10 daily flights from Campinas to Santos Dumont, which it also serves from Salvador and Porto Alegre.

Meanwhile, one daily flight from Campinas to Foz do Iguaçu, located near the Argentina and Paraguay border, will begin on 10 March. Azul is also increasing on 1 February its service from Campinas to Joinville from one to three daily frequencies.

Azul, based on December 2010 ANAC figures, currently has a 7.5% share of Brazil's domestic market. Its RPKs increased 75% in 2010.

Another year of major traffic growth is expected for Azul as the carrier takes its first ATR 72s and further expands its E-195 fleet. Azul says it will use its ATR 72s on short-haul routes connecting state capitals with smaller interior cities.