OceanAir A319s to boost capacity 25%

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Brazil's OceanAir plans to grow capacity by 25% this year as the Avianca-TACA subsidiary uses three new Airbus A319s to add frequencies on domestic trunk routes.

OceanAir, which operates a fleet of 14 Fokker 100s, took delivery of its first A319 earlier this month. Avianca-TACA CEO Fabio Villegas says the A319s will supplement OceanAir's fleet of Fokker 100s, which are not due to be replaced until at least 2012.

OceanAir is scheduled to take a second A319 in June and a third A319 in July. All three aircraft come from Avianca's outstanding order book for A320 family aircraft. Villegas says OceanAir is currently not earmarked to receive any other A320 family aircraft from this order but the project will be reviewed after the initial three A319s have entered service.

"We'll see how the project develops," Villegas said in an interview with ATI and Flightglobal.

He says OceanAir is now using its first A319 on the Sao Paulo-Rio de Janeiro shuttle route as well as some longer domestic trunk routes. The aircraft will be formally unveiled at a press conference next week in which OceanAir will also announce it is being re-branded Avianca.

Avianca-TACA majority owner German Efromovich first told ATI last month about its plans to rebrand OceanAir as Avianca. Villegas confirms the OceanAir A319s will all be delivered in Avianca colours and the Fokker 100 fleet will be repainted "as fast as we can".

"It's the right time to change the brand," Villegas says, although adding there are no plans to adapt a unified brand for Avianca and TACA.

He says OceanAir's available seat kilometres will be up 25% this year as a result of the new A319s. Villegas says the carrier has no plans to launch new routes this year and will instead use the A319s to add frequencies on some of its larger existing routes.

The capacity gain is significant because OceanAir's capacity has been relatively flat the last three years while nearly every other Brazilian domestic carrier has been rapidly expanding. Based on ASK figures from Brazil's ANAC, OceanAir had a 2.1% share of the Brazilian domestic market in the first quarter of 2010, compared to a 2.5% share in the first quarter of 2009.

The capacity increase at OceanAir will allow the carrier to keep up with continued growth in the Brazilian domestic market, which grew 35% in the first quarter of 2010. But Villegas insists the additional aircraft is not about market share and OceanAir is not concerned that other Brazilian carriers have been growing faster.

"Our priority hasn't been to grow. Our target hasn't been market share. Our focus has been operating performance," Villegas explains. "The most important thing for us was to have an efficient airline, which we've now achieved."

Villegas adds the A319s will allow OceanAir to further improve its on-time performance and service, which he claims are already rated number one in Brazil. Villegas has been responsible for overseeing OceanAir since 2008, when Avianca took over management of its sister carrier. Both carriers earlier this year became part of the new Avianca-TACA holding company. In addition to leading the new holding company, Villegas also is still the CEO of Avianca.