Avant Airlines plans to decide within the next six months on a replacement fleet of aircraft. The Chilean carrier is also searching for a European partner to strengthen its domestic market presence.

According to Avant executive vice-president Fernando Fernandez, the airline aims to select a new 100-seater by September. The aircraft will replace Avant's main fleet of eight Boeing 737-200s. A Boeing 727-200 is used for charters.

Fernandez denies reports that Avant has chosen Boeing's Next Generation 737, saying it is also looking at the Airbus A319/A320 and Boeing 717. Avant is also studying a 70-seat size regional aircraft such as Embraer's RJ-170 to serve smaller domestic destinations.

Avant's two international partners Continental Airlines and Copa Airlines of Panama, 49% of which is owned by the US major, both operate large fleets of new 737s. Fernandez hints that its choice of equipment could be linked to possible foreign equity investment in Avant.

Avant's one-year-old alliance with Continental is "working at 90%" says Fernandez. This was extended to include Copa in early December. The privately owned Chilean carrier is looking to bolster its claimed 30% share of the domestic market with a European traffic feed.

"We're looking for another alliance with someone in Europe," says Fernandez. The preference is to ally with a carrier already within the Continental-Northwest Airlines fold. With KLM having just pulled out of the Chilean market, Avant's attention is focused on Alitalia.

Meanwhile, LanChile has reaffirmed its intention to join the rival British Airways/American Airlines-led oneworld global alliance this year. The Chilean carrier will host the next meeting of oneworld chief executives in Santiago on 30 March.

In the meantime, the Chilean flag carrier is preparing to take delivery of the first of its new fleet of Airbus aircraft in September.

Source: Flight International