Malaysia Airlines turboprop operator Firefly is keen to be a launch customer for ATR's potential 90-seat turboprop, still under analysis, and is in talks with the manufacturer.

While the proposed aircraft has yet to emerge as a formal project, ATR partner Finmeccanica indicated earlier this year that there was increasing interest in a such a programme and that discussions were taking place between the airframer's shareholders.

Firefly operates a dozen ATR 72s, but chief executive Ignatius Ong says: "The larger aircraft will also allow us to add capacity without adding frequency, which is good for services to destinations [such as] Singapore, where slots are limited."

He adds that the carrier would "need to make an order within the next two to three years".

While ATR partner EADS has played down the chances of approving a new type this year, Finmeccanica has hinted that the companies could nevertheless provide greater clarity on the strategy. ATR says it can disclose "nothing new" about the possible 90-seat project.

Firefly has also suggested that it could revive plans to bring jets back to its fleet. Ong says the carrier will definitely consider returning to jet operations but is working with Malaysia Airlines to decide on the best strategy for the whole group.

The airline briefly operated Boeing 737s, but Malaysia Airlines took over last year as part of a plan to realign the group's businesses.

There have also been talks to convert Firefly, which operates from bases in Subang and Penang, into a true low-cost carrier to take on competition in the market segment, but any decision will only be made after Malaysia Airlines returns to profitability, says Ong.

Source: Flight International