Finnish carrier near to finalising strategy for replacement of ATR 72s and Boeing MD-80s with single regional type

Finnair hopes to finalise a plan in the coming months to replace the ATR 72s and Boeing MD-80s operating on its short-haul network with a single regional type.

The airline has been holding a long-running aircraft evaluation with the primary aim of replacing nine ATR 72s and 10 MD-80s with a regional jet family. Industry sources say an order for around 20 aircraft is likely, around half of which will be options.

"The subject is still under study," says Finnair's assistant vice-president, aircraft trading, Colin Molloy. "I hope it will be resolved sooner rather than later." He adds that all the aircraft in the 70- to 100-seat category are in the evaluation, including the Airbus A318, ATR 72, Boeing 717, Bombardier CRJ700/ 900 and Embraer 170/190, but declines to comment on numbers.

Finnair operates 13 MD-80s alongside its fleet of 25 A320 family aircraft. Molloy says that three of the MD-80s are in 160-seat configuration for operation on weekend charters, and will probably be replaced by additional A320s. The remaining 10 MD-80s will be replaced by a smaller regional type, which will also succeed the ATRs.

"We've looked at the Embraer 190 with 100 seats, and the 170 with 76 seats," says Molloy - who attended last month's 190 roll-out at Embraer's plant in S‹o Jos‚ dos Campos, Brazil. "We're awaiting a revised proposal from Bombardier on the CRJ700/900," he adds.

Meanwhile, Finnair is expanding its long-haul fleet with the addition of a ninth MD-11 - an ex-CityBird example leased from Boeing which will enter service in May. Molloy says he expects the MD-11 will continue with the airline until around 2009, and does not envisage a long-haul replacement decision until 2006. Finnair recently had a 7E7 presentation from Boeing, he adds.

Finnair is optimistic that it can turn round from its loss last year thanks to a €160 million ($200 million) cost-cutting programme and encouraging growth levels in traffic for the first quarter so far. The airline recorded an operating loss of €18.8 million compared with a profit of €60 million in 2002. Operating revenues were down over €100 million to €1.6 billion.

Source: Flight International