China Southern Airlines, which has announced that it is phasing out its ATR turboprops, is looking to replace these with regional jets.

"We haven't decided but we look forward to choosing some kind of aircraft to replace these" ATRs, says China Southern deputy general manager Ren Jidong, who was formerly general manager of China Southern's Xinjiang branch.

He says a decision will be made this year on a replacement. He declines to say which aircraft types it is considering.

But industry sources in China say the carrier plans to replace the ATRs with regional jets and the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China ARJ21-700 is a front-runner.

"China Southern may be obliged to buy the ARJ21 because it is a state-owned company," adds one of the sources.

China Southern is phasing out the ATRs because it wants aircraft with more range and speed, say the sources.

The Xinjiang branch, in China's relatively remote northwest province, operates China Southern's fleet of five ATR 72-500s.

The ATRs are all based in Xinjiang's capital Urumqi and operate on relatively long routes for turboprops. This is because Xinjiang is a very large province.

China Southern also faces increased competition in the province from Hainan Airlines which has based at least three Embraer ERJ-145s in Urumqi.

China Southern has announced on its website it is selling the five ATRs and that companies interested in buying these aircraft need to place bids by 31 May.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news