Colombia’s AerOasis plans February 2011 launch with or without LAN

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Colombian start-up AerOasis is pressing forward with its plans to launch operations early next year despite a decision by potential partner LAN to acquire established Colombian carrier Aires.

AerOasis CEO Nicolas Cortazar says LAN's memorandum of understanding with Aires will have no impact on AerOasis' launch plans, which are "very advanced" with proving flights scheduled to start next week.

Cortazar says LAN continues to provide consulting services to AerOasis in support of the certification process and has subleased AerOasis one of its three IAE V2500-powered Airbus A320s. Cortazar does not rule out a potential commercial partnership with LAN, saying the two companies will decide on this once the new airline is certified but AerOasis is also prepared to launch without LAN as a partner.

Cortazar says LAN "still needs to do due diligence with Aires" and is not expected to make a final decision on the planned acquisition for another two months. Once LAN makes a final decision on Aires, LAN is then expected to decide on whether to partner with AerOasis.

"For now they're supporting us," Cortazar tells ATI and Flightglobal. "For now we're focusing on the certification process. That is the plan and we're sticking with the plan. We will have to see what the next step is."

Before LAN announced on 27 October its intention to buy Aires, LAN executives had said LAN intends to exercise an option it has to acquire AerOasis and have the new airline become a LAN affiliate. But Cortazar points out that the original deal between AerOasis and LAN, as ATI and Flightglobal reported in June, was only for LAN to provide consulting services. The intent was only to consider a further partnership or acquisition once AerOasis was certified.

LAN, which already has a Colombian cargo airline subsidiary, has been looking for several years to break into the Colombian passenger market. Cortazar says LAN's decision to pursue acquiring Aires "reiterates their great interest in Colombia".

Cortazar says AerOasis took delivery of its first two A320s in September and a third A320 earlier this month. He says the first two aircraft were manufactured in 2007 and are being leased from a lessor he cannot disclose due to a confidentiality agreement. These aircraft are already on the Colombian registry with the tail numbers HK-4738 and HK-4740.

He says the A320 which was delivered in October is being subleased from LAN and is still registered in Chile as CC-CQM. According to Flightglobal's ACAS database, this aircraft was also manufactured in 2007 and is owned by LAN.

Cortazar says AerOasis will begin operating its A320s next week on a 30-hour proving programme. Cortazar expects AerOasis to be certified by Colombia's CAA in mid December. The carrier will then start selling flights for a February launch.

Cortazar says AerOasis will initially link its Bogota base with Cali, Cartagena and Medellin - routes now primarily served by Avianca, Copa Colombia and Aires. These are also the three routes AerOasis will be operating proving flights on over the next few weeks.

The carrier already has been assigned traffic rights for 11 other domestic routes. AerOasis plans to later add international services but in Colombia airlines cannot request any international traffic rights until they have begun domestic operations.

AerOasis has not yet decided on a final configuration for its aircraft but Cortazar expects to offer economy and premium economy, following the model used by LAN for its regional services. He says AerOasis will not follow a pure low-cost model and "should be something between" low-cost and legacy.

"We'll be an efficient company with competitive prices - not low cost," Cortazar says.

Colombian regulations require new trunk route carriers to launch with at least three aircraft and have five aircraft within the first six months of operating. "We've already started conversations with lessors for the next two airplanes," Cortazar says, adding the aim is to have the full fleet of five aircraft before the February launch although this not required.

He says the business plan envisions a fleet of 10 A320s within the first two years. AerOasis is currently owned by Colombian investment firm Corso, which is managed by the Cortazar family.