Colombia's EasyFly eyes more Jetstream 41s and 737-500s

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Colombia's EasyFly is looking to further bolster its fleet of British Aerospace Jetstream 41 aircraft next year and over the medium term eyes expanding into narrowbody aircraft, most likely the Boeing 737-500.

EasyFly launched in late 2007 with an initial fleet of four leased Jetstream 41s and last August announced the acquisition of five more of the type. EasyFly planning director Alfonso Avila Corchuelo says the carrier is only now just placing into service the second of these five aircraft and the remaining three should finally be operating by year-end.

He says it has taken time to prepare the aircraft for revenue service because they were acquired "as is" and EasyFly's in-house maintenance operation has since been working on overhauling the aircraft. The aircraft, which were previously operated by US carriers, were acquired through British Aerospace.

"We purchased the aircraft and did the c-checks ourselves. It's cheaper that way," Avila explains.

He says EasyFly is now looking to buy a further three Jetstream 41s which it would like to place into service next year. That would complete the first phase of the carrier's business plan, which envisioned operating 12 30-seat turboprops on thin regional routes.

"I think we'll go up to 12," Avila says. "I think 12 is the maximum we'll be able to fly out of here" given the size of Colombia's regional market.

He adds EasyFly will then begin the second phase of its business plan, which envisions operations on domestic trunk and short-haul international routes. "This [the Jetstream expansion] is phase one of our airline. We think we can grow into larger aircraft in the future to fly internationally and connect bigger domestic routes."

He says EasyFly could add a second aircraft type in 2011 and given the current price of used narrowbodies "it would be great to negotiate airplanes now even if we don't receive them for another year or two".

Avila calls the 737-500 the ideal aircraft for domestic trunk routes in Colombia because the market he believes is too small for larger 737s. EasyFly is interested in acquiring 120-seat aircraft but believes Airbus narrowbodies in this category may be too expensive.

The timing of EasyFly's expansion into larger aircraft will ultimately depend on market conditions and Avila says now is not the time for expansion, pointing out currently the domestic market is oversaturated.

Domestic capacity in Colombia has jumped this year driven by expansion at Aires, which previously only operated Bombardier Dash 8 turboprops but over the first half of this year expanded into domestic trunk routes with five newly acquired Boeing 737-700s. In June just under 800,000 passengers travelled domestically according to Colombian CAA figures, a 7% increase over last year. EasyFly carried 22,531 passengers in June, giving it a 3% share of the total domestic market.

"We'll have to wait it out because a lot of trunk routes are saturated," Avila says. "They are [Aires] are shooting for market share. It's too much capacity on the main routes."

He adds: "The market is really evolving every day. We have a plan but we'll have to adjust."