Alitalia Express is evaluating larger members of Embraer's 170/190 family to supplement its fleet of 170s, and could finalise a deal this year.

The Italian flag carrier's regional arm will be the first operator of the 170 in October, when it introduces the first of six aircraft on order. However the airline's chief executive Massimo Chieli says it plans to operate a larger number. "Six aircraft is not a fleet - we need a minimum of eight," he says, adding that he is studying whether to take up the airline's six options as one of the larger 170/190 models - the 175, 190 or 195. He says any decision will be dependent upon the outcome of the Alitalia strategic review, due to be completed this year.

Alitalia Express was due to follow Swiss International Air Lines with the 170, but is now launch operator as after the Swiss carrier delayed its deliveries. In this role, the Italian carrier will participate in the 170's Maturity test programme next month in which the first production 170 will be flown by Embraer pilots, but without passengers, on flights within Italy and to points in Europe. Alitalia Express facilities at various airports will be used and its maintenance crews and ground staff involved in evaluating the aircraft.

Source: Flight International