Avianca-TACA plans to select at least two new regional aircraft types by year-end.

Chief executive Fabio Villegas says the group has launched a request for proposals covering jets and turboprops with capacities of up to 100 seats. A decision is expected this year and will "ideally" result in the selection of one type of jet and one type of turboprop, says Villegas.

Avianca requires replacements for its Fokker 50 and Fokker 100 fleets, which are to be phased out by 2012. In August 2009 ATI reported that the Colombian airline had started evaluating potential replacements for 15 Fokker 100s and 10 Fokker 50s, as well as the 14 Fokker 100s operated by Brazilian sister airline OceanAir. After Avianca decided to pursue a merger with Grupo TACA in October 2009, the fleet planning project was expanded to include TACA's regional affiliates.

Replacing the ATR 42s that operate under the TACA Regional banner now falls within the project's scope. Additionally, the new fleet of Embraer E-190s operated by TACA mainline could be replaced if the E-190 is not selected for the wider group fleet, says Villegas.

Several other aircraft types are also under evaluation for the 100-seat requirement, including the Bombardier CSeries, Mitsubishi MRJ and Sukhoi Superjet. "We haven't ruled out anything," Villegas tells ATI.

Avianca-TACA has not yet decided how many new 100-seaters it requires. It also has not decided how many turboprops it requires and what size or sizes to acquire. Villegas says this will be determined as part of the group's new joint fleet and network plans, which are due to be completed in July or August.

As part of the new network plan, some existing 100-seat jet routes could potentially be up-gauged to Airbus A319s and others down-gauged to turboprops. The group is also looking at using its new regional fleet to launch new routes.

Villegas says Avianca is "very happy with the Fokker 50 and we need an airplane with similar characteristics". He adds the ATR 42s as well as the smaller turboprops now operated at TACA Regional are used to serve "small but strategic" destinations that "are very important to us for connectivity".

As regards to narrowbodies, the new fleet plan will focus on A320 family aircraft, as Avianca and TACA both operate A320s and have outstanding orders for the type. OceanAir also has started taking delivery of A319s to supplement its Fokker 100 fleet, while Ecuador's AeroGal, another sister airline, is slated to begin taking A320s later this year.

The Avianca-TACA group, which was formed by a merger earlier this year, includes only one airline that operates long haul, namely Avianca. However, Villegas reveals that TACA may launch services from Central America to Europe next year. If this happens, the two additional Airbus A330s that Avianca is slated to receive in 2011 will be handed to TACA.

Avianca operates five A330s and three 767s, and has both Boeing 787s and Airbus A350s on order.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news