Brazilian regional jet is considered favourite as Malaysian flag carrier evaluates options for new narrowbody fleet

Malaysia Airlines (MAS) is planning a major restructuring of its regional and narrowbody fleet, with the Embraer 170/190 family considered the leading candidate.

Managing director and chief executive Mohammed Nor Yusof says changing market conditions have prompted the carrier to link previously separate reviews of Fokker 50 and Boeing 737-400 replacements.

Yusof points to the growth of Malaysian low-fare carrier Air Asia and changing market conditions in southern China, Indonesia and Singapore. In response, MAS is revising its business plan. At least one new aircraft type will be part of the new business plan, with the Airbus A318, Embraer 170/190, Boeing 717, 737-700, Bombardier CRJ700/900 and Dash 8 Q300/Q400 turboprop all under consideration.

MAS operates 10 50-seat Fokker 50 turboprops on short-haul flights from a base in eastern Malaysia and 39 144-seat 737-400s on a mix of short and medium-haul legs. MAS plans to retain its feeder network at roughly 50 aircraft.

Industry sources consider Airbus and Boeing as long shots in the competition as most of the 737 routes now suffer from low load factors. Bombardier is trying to convince MAS that the Q300/400 is the only profitable candidate to replace the Fokker 50s and 737s respectively, generally operating on low-yield short-haul routes with increased competition from Air Asia. But MAS is unsure how its business passengers would react to turboprops.

MAS's holding company, government-owned Penerbangan Malaysia (PMB), is responsible for ordering all MAS aircraft, and appears to be in favour of the Embraer 170 to support a government-wide push to increase trade with Brazil, which includes the anticipated purchase of four Embraer EMB-145 airborne early warning and control aircraft

A regional aircraft decision is expected next year although sources say PMB was close to sealing a deal for 170s a few months ago. MAS then decided it wanted to analyse more closely operating costs for select short-haul routes.

Source: Flight International