Indian Airlines has effectively scrapped longstanding plans to purchase ATR 42-500s and is instead seeking to lease six of the type to develop a domestic feeder operation. It comes as Jet Airways is to expand its turboprop fleet and a new domestic carrier prepares to launch services.

Indian Airlines has issued a global tender notice calling for dry leases on six aircraft, to be inducted between next December and April 2002. Lease terms will be for three years and the aircraft will be operated by subsidiary Alliance Air.

The carrier has been considering acquiring turboprop aircraft for years to develop a domestic feeder network in line with government calls for improved air services on thin, remote routes.

Its main domestic competitor, Jet Airways, already operates five ATR 72s and is planning to add three more from later this year.

Start-up carrier Visa Airways is meanwhile preparing to launch services from Mumbai to eight destinations using three Bombardier Dash 8-100s. The carrier says it will focus on "unserved and underserved feeder sectors".

Several years ago Indian Airlines selected the ATR 42 over rival manufacturers' offerings and said it would purchase six of the type. Bureaucratic hurdles, internal opposition and financial difficulties forced the plan to be put on hold.

Its leasing plan casts further doubt on a long-discussed production deal which would see state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) manufacturing the turboprops in the country. HAL has forecast a market for more than 100 ATRs in India, including those for freighter and military utility roles, but a production deal is tied to purchases by Indian Airlines.

Source: Flight International