Colombian regional carrier EasyFly continues to study expanding into mainline routes with Boeing 737s but for now is taking a wait-and-see approach.

EasyFly launched services in late 2007 following a low-cost business model that focuses initially on niche point-to-point regional markets with Jetstream 41 turboprops. But the carrier, founded by former Aero Republica owner and founder Alfonso Avila, has always planned on expanding into trunk routes with jet aircraft as part of a second phase.

"We're working on it [the second phase]. We're having the planning department do the analysis," Avila tells ATI. "But now isn't the condition to start in Colombia. We'll have to wait and see what happens to the industry."

Aires early last year became the third Colombian carrier and the first low-cost operator on major domestic routes, joining Avianca and Aero Republica. Colombia's domestic market has since chalked up extraordinary growth, expanding by 22% in the second half of 2009 and another 37% through the first four months of this year.

But air fares have gone down and it is unclear if the market can support a fourth carrier. "I don't think so," Avila says when asked if there is room for a fourth operator on domestic trunk routes.

But the EasyFly president points out his airline is following a different path to market because it launched as a low-cost carrier while Aires transitioned from a legacy regional carrier model.

"You really have to start with a new concept. You have to start as a real low-cost carrier," Avila says. "To start a low-cost airline you need to start from scratch."

Avila says EasyFly would also operate international routes if it added a second aircraft type. But the Colombian international market has also become intently competitive, with Aires launching services to the US last year. Aires plans to add several medium-haul international routes throughout the Americas.

Aero Republica is also looking at launching several medium-haul international routes. Aero Republica, which was only a domestic operator when Avila sold the carrier to Panama's Copa in 2006, currently only operates short-haul international services to neighbouring countries.

Proposed Colombian start-up Aeroasis, which recently forged a partnership with Chile-based LAN, is poised to become yet another player in the dynamic Colombian market. Avila expects Aeroasis to focus on international rather than domestic routes.

ATI reported last year that EasyFly had determined 120-seat 737-500s was the ideal aircraft for the second phase of its business plan and could add the type in 2011. Avila says EasyFly is now looking at 140-seat 737 family aircraft but for now it will continue to stick to niche regional routes with Jetstream 41s.

"We have to find the right opportunity," he says. "We're going to consolidate the regional market. After that we'll maybe go to another market."

EasyFly now owns six Jetstream 41s and has another four on lease which it intends to purchase. The carrier is now looking at buying two more Jetstream 41s.

Avila says there are still several potential small regional routes it could launch but he does not envision expanding the turboprop fleet beyond 12 aircraft.

EasyFly so far has focused primarily on routes with little or no competition. In addition to opening links from Colombia's major cities to small airports, some of which previously had no air service, it has also launched new point-to-point routes that eliminate the need for domestic connections. On routes where EasyFly faces competition it competes against other turboprop operators rather than mainline aircraft.

Based on data from Colombia's CAA, EasyFly flew just under 300,000 passengers last year, a 55% increase over 2008. Through the first four months of this year, the carrier's traffic had grown another 10% to about 100,000 passengers.

EasyFly currently accounts for 2% of the domestic market, based on traffic figures for the first four months of 2010. Avianca accounts for 55% of the market, Aires 20% and Aero Republica 15%. Regional carrier Satena accounts for 6% and small regional Antioquia accounts for 1%.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news