By Leithen Francis in Singapore

Indonesian state-owned carrier Merpati Nusantara has signed an order for 15 Xian Aircraft MA60s, the biggest export order yet for the Chinese-built turboprop.

Merpati’s president director Hotasi Nababan signed the aircraft order yesterday in Beijing during a high-level visit to the Chinese capital by Indonesia’s deputy president and state minister for state enterprises, says a senior official in Merpati’s Jakarta headquarters who wishes to remain anonymous.

It is “a firm order contract” for 15 Pratt & Whitney Canada-powered MA60s with the first to be delivered in November this year and the last by the end of 2007, says the official. He adds the deal is being financed by China’s export agency.

Merpati’s MA60s will eventually replace the airline’s ageing Fokker F27s and Indonesian-built CASA CN-235s, says the official. Merpati’s MA60s will have 60 seats and be in a single-class configuration.

The aircraft will be stationed on Indonesia’s main islands and be used for short-haul services, says the official.

“Eventually one [pilot training] simulator will be in Indonesia but to begin with all the pilots will be sent to China for training,” he adds.

Merpati has been seeking to acquire 50-60 seat turboprops for several years. In early 2004 it signed a letter of intent with Bank of America for ten ATR 42-320s on finance lease but that deal was never consummated.

Xian Aircraft, meanwhile, has been keen to sell its MA60 overseas. The deal for 15 to Merpati is the aircraft manufacturer’s biggest MA60 export order so far.

Merpati had been negotiating with China for about six months, says the official at Merpati, adding that the airline was able to consummate a deal now partly because it recently gained some investment money “from the Indonesian government and some from an Indonesian investor”. The official declines to name the investor.

He also says Merpati recently acquired a Boeing 737-300 from an undisclosed company in the USA and this aircraft will arrive in Indonesia on 27 June.

In the coming days it hopes to conclude deals for the purchase or lease of two Boeing 737-400s and two 737-500s, says the official, adding that Merpati wants to secure around 15 737 ‘Classics’ so it can phase-out its 11 737-200s.

In addition, Merpati has just bought one de Havilland Canada DHC Dash 6 Twin Otter from a bank which was a creditor of defunct Malaysian carrier Kenari Air.

This Twin Otter will be stationed in Indonesia’s West Papua province, says the official.

Source: Flight International