East Timor Air (ETA) will start flying in May, linking East Timor with Darwin using commuter turboprops which it aims to upgrade to Boeing 737s next year as its network across the region grows.

A Raytheon Beech 1900C will be introduced on flights to Darwin from Dili before East Timor's independence from UN administration on 20 May, perhaps from 1 May, says Vincent Aviation managing director Peter Vincent.

New Zealand-based Vincent Aviation owns 45% of ETA, with East Timorese businessman Jerry Desousa taking an equal share. The rest is held by East Timor's government. Vincent Aviation is providing the 1900D, a Rheims F406, and running ETA's operations.

A leased Cessna Caravan is expected to be added in June, linking Dili, the capital, with the Oecussi enclave; Bacau, a former Indonesian air force base and now East Timor's major international airport; and Suai, the country's other major town.

Strong demand will enable another Beech to be added on a short lease in a few months. Later this year Vincent hopes traffic levels will warrant larger aircraft. A Bombardier Dash 8 is a favourite as support infrastructure is good in Australia, says Vincent. Regional jets are another alternative.

"I think everybody wants a 737 with the country's flag on the tail. But we prefer to take things cautiously, going up in steps," says Vincent, who is eyeing the 737-300 and possibly the 737-700. Strong freight demand will make the Airbus A320 a serious contender.

Larger aircraft will fly to Bali, with a Singapore leg added later. Flights to Cairns, Brisbane and Sydney are also possible.

Investors in South-East Asia are standing by to chip in if funds are needed. One is offering a Boeing MD-82 for an 80% stake.

Source: Flight International