Max Kingsley-Jones/LONDON

Italian regional Meridiana is determined to revive its search for a strategic partner as soon as possible, to allow it to initiate its fleet renewal within three years.

The Sardinia-based carrier, which is majority-owned by the Aga Khan, had been searching for a major airline partner to form an alliance and possibly sell a shareholding.

But the Aga Khan, supported by the airline's board, decided last month to put the search on hold until the planned alliance strategy of Italian flag carrier Alitalia became clearer (Flight International 17-23 October).

"We felt we should wait until we find out what happens with Europe's major airlines, like Alitalia, KLM, Swissair and Air France," says Claudio Miorelli, Meridiana's commercial director. "The plan remains our strategic objective. We hope to be in a position to go forward next year."

Once the partner strategy is clear, Meridiana will go ahead with its fleet replacement plan which it hopes to finalise next year to allow deliveries to begin in 2003. The airline's fleet includes 17 Boeing MD-80s and four BAe 146-200s, and according to Miorelli a wide range of new and used aircraft are being evaluated to replace them.

Miorelli does not expect the airline to acquire aircraft larger than the 160-seat MD-80s, and says that one strategy being considered is to acquire smaller regional aircraft. Aircraft under evaluation include 50-seaters such as the Embraer ERJ-145, new large regional jets including the Avro RJ-X, aswell as the smaller Boeing and Airbus types.

Meanwhile, Alitalia is in the midst of a short-haul fleet renewal study with over 90 MD-80s needing replacement from 2003-4.

There is now a competition to select the next aircraft type: Boeing offering the 717 twinjet and 737 family and Airbus the A320 family.

The latter would match Alitalia's existing fleet though strategy is likely to be determined by the partner it selects.

Source: Flight International