Flybe ‘very interested’ in switching to re-engined E-Jets

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Flybe is working closely with Embraer on the proposed second-generation of E-Jet aircraft, and will likely amend some of its 26 outstanding E-175 orders for the new type.

"Our technical people have been involved in that project and are very interested in the project," chief executive Jim French said in a media briefing on 23 January.

"We have a longstanding relationship with Embraer," he notes, calling Flybe a "primary customer" of the Brazilian airframer. "We're very enthusiastic about the product, and I feel sure that there will be the opportunity to look at realigning the order."

Flybe placed an order for 35 E-175s in 2010. Some 26 units are still outstanding, with deliveries scheduled to be completed by 2016.

The re-engined E-Jets are expected to enter service around 2018, though the programme will not formally be launched until later this year.

French says "the bulk of" Flybe's 35-aircraft order was always intended to be substitutional, allowing the regional carrier to maintain capacity as leases on dozens of its Bombardier Dash 8 Q400s and E-195s expire.

He acknowledges that the return dates on those aircraft will place a necessity on Flybe to keep accepting deliveries in the near-term, but says talks have already begun about upgrading to the new E-Jets when they become available.

"There's a time constraint for us on delivery dates," he notes. "Clearly were we to accept the existing product...you would expect us to do some negotiating to make sure there is some ability to swap out."

Separately, Flybe's new restructuring plan has abandoned fleet growth over the next two years. Compared with its previous fleet projections for 2013/14, four Q400s and three other aircraft - either Q400s or E-175s - will now be withdrawn.

French attributes the cutbacks to the weak economic outlook and high taxation in the form of the UK's Air Passenger Duty.

Noting that Flybe has close to 100 aircraft under management, he says further reductions are possible. Options being considered include the sale of owned aircraft; deferalls with manufacturers; and breaking leases early before placing aircraft on the market.

"We're looking at a range of options, but what we're stating is our clear intention...to go for a pretty flat profile over the next couple of years," French says.