Max Kingsley-Jones/LONDON

British Midland (BM) has confirmed its expected move into regional jet operations, with a $200 million order for up to 15 Embraer RJ-145s. The airline, however, has not yet finalised its fleet plans for long haul aircraft, but has held delivery positions with Airbus Industrie and Boeing for early 2000.

The East Midlands-based airline has placed firm orders for 10 ERJ-145s and taken options on another five. Deliveries of the 49-seaters will begin in May 1999, to BM's regional division, British Midland Commuter, and conclude in 2002. The subsidiary, which was formed from the take-over of Aberdeen-based Business Air, will use the aircraft to supplement and partially replace its Saab 340 turboprop fleet on European routes from the English Midlands and Scotland. Current plans call for the Saab fleet to be reduced in numbers gradually, from 11 aircraft to around six in 2002.

BM will use the jets on regional point-to-point services, beginning with East Midlands-Brussels, now operated by a Saab 340.

Meanwhile, the airline is pressing forward with plans for transatlantic routes, despite the apparent demise of any immediate US-UK open skies agreement following British Airways' decision to postpone its strategic alliance with American Airlines.

BM is aiming to launch services in May 2000 and has reserved delivery positions at Airbus Industrie and Boeing for the lease of two A330-200s or 767-300ERs, respectively.

"We have identified an initial requirement for six long-haul aircraft for delivery from 2000," says BM chairman Sir Michael Bishop. The airline will undertake a detailed assessment of its transatlantic plans in "six to nine months", he says.

BM has filed applications for services from Heathrow to several US destinations. Bishop claims that additional Heathrow slots are not required to launch services. He " believes" the existing US-UK bilateral, "Bermuda II", will be successfully renegotiated by the middle of next year to allow at least one additional UK and US airline to operate between points in the USA and London Heathrow.

Source: Flight International