Hawaii's Island Air plans to more than double its Bombardier Dash 8 fleet after its sale by Aloha Airgroup to new private owners.

Willis Lease Finance founder and chief executive Charles Willis has formed a new company, Gavarnie Holdings, to purchase the small regional carrier. Island Air plans to lease two additional Dash 8-100s before the deal closes next March and another three by the end of 2004.

Island Air operates four Dash 8-100s, all leased from Willis Lease Finance, and believes the 37-seat turboprop is the right aircraft for the current operating environment. Slumping demand has forced larger Aloha and Hawaiian Airlines to slash their inter-island schedules and short-haul fleets over the last two years.

"This has never been a jet market," says Island Air president Neil Takekawa, adding the carrier over the long term will consider upgrading to larger Dash 8 Q300s and QC400s.

"The Q series is perfect for this market," he says.

Bombardier has been pushing the Q400 to Aloha and Hawaiian, believing it can outprofit the narrowbodies operating between Honolulu and other Hawaiian points. For now, Island Air plans to avoid competing against mainline carriers by adding point-to- point markets that Aloha and Hawaiian have cut or reduced.

Island Air plans to retain its codeshare with Aloha but will begin selling tickets independently. Charles Willis will be Island's chairman.

Source: Flight International