Kenya Airways plans to introduce Embraer E-190s to its fleet to support further growth of its fast-expanding African network.

The SkyTeam carrier has been an E-Jet operator since 2007, when it took the first of three E-170s on lease from GECAS. Earlier this month it took delivery of two more E-170s, which are being leased from Finnair, giving it a fleet of five E-170s.

Kenya Airways COO Bram Steller reveals the carrier is interested in adding larger E-190s and is currently negotiating long-term leases on two E-190s for delivery later this year.

"We are at the moment negotiating for 190s, initially two," Steller told ATI on the sidelines of a SkyTeam event in New York last week.

Steller says Kenya Airways may also acquire additional Boeing 737s this year but it is currently not negotiating any deals for the type. "We are still looking," he says.

According to Flightglobal's ACAS database, Kenya Airways now operates a fleet of four 737-300s, four -700s and five -800s.

Kenya has been using its E-Jet fleet to expand its intra-African operation. The carrier over the last several months has been adding one new African destination per month and Steller says this rate of expansion will continue as Kenya Airways adds more E-Jets.

"The E-Jets are ideal to start the routes and to start with real frequencies," Steller explains.

He adds as the carrier's new routes mature some can be upgraded to larger 737s.

Kenya's intra-Africa focus supports an initiative at SkyTeam to improve the alliance's overall African coverage. This initiative includes promoting Kenya Airways' expanded African network as well as recruiting additional African members.

SkyTeam chairman Leo van Leo van Wijk says while SkyTeam already has "good" African coverage through Kenya Airways "there are other opportunities to expand our reach in Africa". van Wijk declines to disclose which African carriers SkyTeam is speaking with.

Steller says "obviously" Kenya Airways is playing a role in SkyTeam's recruitment effort in Africa as the alliance approaches carriers in all parts of Africa.

Kenya Airways is also playing an important role in setting up SkyTeam's new African fare pass, which van Wijk says will be introduced later this year. The alliance now offers seven fare passes offering round-the-world, intra-Asia, intra-Europe as well as domestic US, Mexico, Italy and China itineraries.

Steller says Kenya Airways has decided to focus most of its growth on Africa because it can now rely on SkyTeam partners for expanding its coverage in other continents.

"All the other parts of the world are covered by our partners. We don't have to do everything ourselves. We tie in well with others and they tie in well with us," Steller says.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news