Jet Airways expects to finalise a major order for 30-70 seat regional jets in the next nine months, but denies reports that it may be about to phase out its ATR 72 turboprops.

The Mumbai-based airline is India's largest private carrier, operating 25 Boeing 737-400/500s and -700/800s, plus five ATR 72s, on a domestic network to 38 destinations. The ATRs joined the fleet last October through a lease deal with the manufacturer.

Jet Airways chairman Naresh Goyal says reports that he lambasted ATR at a recent meeting over financial aspects of the lease deal and threatened to return the aircraft, are "inaccurate", and that the airline is "very pleased" with the five aircraft. "We plan to exercise our three options soon - two for delivery this year and a third next March."

Although the Indian Government agreed in January to slash its sales tax policy on turboprop fuel from almost 30% to 4%, to encourage local regional airline expansion, it is understood that the plan is yet to be fully ratified. The tax cut, which will halve the fuel proportion of ATR 72 direct operating costs, is vital to Jet Airways' ATR operations, as Goyal has admitted that they are unlikely to be profitable in the short term.

The airline is moving ahead with plans to add regional jets, says Goyal, and has begun discussions with Bombardier, Fairchild and Embraer. "We have a requirement for up to 25 jets, seating 30 to 70 passengers, over the next few years," he says.

Goyal adds that no supplier has yet been chosen, but he expects to finalise the order by the end of the current financial year - by March 2001.

Source: Flight International