Etihad Regional weighs options for turboprop lease deal

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Darwin Airline, newly rebranded as Etihad Regional, is evaluating both the ATR 72 and Bombardier’s QSeries as part of a tender process under which it is to add leased turboprops to its fleet.

While a decision between the two options is “very close”, none has yet been taken, says the Swiss carrier’s chief Maurizio Merlo.

Etihad Regional is already advertising for ATR 72 flightcrew, however. “In order to anticipate and not to lose time, because we are running short, we already said to the market that we are looking for pilots,” says Merlo.

The airline, which currently operates 10 Saab 2000s, is to double its number of year-round destinations from 15 to 34 by mid-year as part of a strategic revamp following sale of a one-third stake to Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways.

James Hogan, Etihad president and chief executive, indicates that it is “not a slam dunk” that the regional carrier will add ATRs to its inventory.

“We’re reviewing the appropriate aircraft right now,” says Hogan. “Maurizio [Merlo] and his team will review, and we’ll discuss with them in the coming weeks what we consider what we consider is the best solution.

“Obviously, as Etihad Airways, we don’t operate ATR aircraft but our partners do: Air Berlin, Air Serbia, Jet Airways in India, Virgin Australia also. So, we’ll be pooling the common resources and looking at what is the right selection moving forward.”

He adds: “That takes into account not only the aircraft transaction but the training requirements moving forward: the spares, the MRO capability. That analysis is being undertaken right now.”