Buenos Aires-based LAPA (Lineas Aereas Privadas Argentinas) plans to more than double its fleet of Boeing 737-700s to 20 by next year as part of continued expansion plans that could include the addition of another 767-300ER, and possibly the purchase of 737-900s.

The airline will take two more -700s this year, plus a further 10 in 2001, says LAPA managing director Ronnie Boyd. The low-cost carrier hopes to secure US Exim Bank funding by the end of March for eight of the 737s. Two will be leased. Boyd says the last of 12 ageing 737-200s will be retired by the end of 2002. LAPA is also studying the use of larger -900s for future growth.

LAPA's longer-haul, predominantly charter, operation, which uses two 757-200s and a single 767-300ER, is also in line for expansion with procurement of a further 767-300ER. This will depend largely on building traffic on the present service to Atlanta, Georgia, in the USA, says Boyd.

Growth could also be spurred by changing charter services to Brazil and the Caribbean into scheduled operations. "We have the authority to turn those routes into scheduled services," says Boyd. He adds that routes to Sao Paulo, Brazil, and San Juan, Puerto Rico, are "interesting to us", the latter particularly because of what he describes as a "big cargo market".

To secure the future of its regional and cross-border expansion in Latin America, which has mushroomed since Argentina's 1992 deregulation, LAPA is looking at codeshares and other service agreements with local carriers.

"Our vision is for integrated operations on a joint basis in certain markets. At the moment, we have way too many seats and too many players for an 8 million [Argentine] passenger market.

"It could be served handsomely by one carrier with 45 aircraft, but right now you have Aerolineas Argentinas [with soon-to-be merged Austral], LAPA and other minor players like Dinar and Southern Winds. Everyone is intent on expanding their fleets," says Boyd.

Source: Flight International