Mexicana is negotiating leases for about 25 Boeing 717s that will be used to replace the 25 Fokker 100s now operated by its low-cost unit Click.

A Mexicana spokesman confirms the carrier has "been in negotiations with Boeing on the 717" and aims to start replacing Fokker 100s later this year.

He says if the contract with Boeing is finalised, all 25 of Click's Fokker 100s will be replaced with 717s over the next two to three years. But he adds Mexicana will only commit to five or six-year leases because it views the 717 as a "transitional aircraft".

Early last year Mexicana studied possible replacements for Click's Fokker 100s (pictured), including the Bombardier CRJ900 and Embraer E-195. But Mexicana CEO Manuel Borja told Flightglobal sister publication ATI in November its evaluation of new 100-seat aircraft had been put on hold for at least six months due to poor economic conditions.

Mexicana Click Fokker 100
 © Click

The spokesman says that since November "some of the suppliers came back with better offers," prompting Mexicana to accelerate replacing Click's Fokker 100s. He says Mexicana continues to evaluate the CRJ900 and E-195 and "we haven't signed anything". But he adds "the 717 is the ideal aircraft for the mission we are flying".

Borja told ATI in November only 100-seat aircraft were being considered because Click's routes are too thin for Airbus or Boeing narrowbodies and Mexicana's unions would likely oppose larger aircraft at lower-cost Click. The spokesman says Mexicana prefers the 717 over the CRJ900 and E-195 because the 717 has a wider fuselage, allowing Click to preserve its current five-seat abreast configuration.

The 717s, the spokesman says, "are relatively new airplanes and help us maintain the product we have". He adds Boeing Capital has offered aircraft that were manufactured in 2003 and 2006.

Most if not all of the aircraft being offered by Boeing Capital are likely to be the ex Midwest Airlines 717s. Midwest took delivery of 25 717s from 2003 to 2006, including the last aircraft to roll off the 717 production line. But last September Midwest, as part of a massive fleet and network restructuring, concluded a deal with Boeing Capital covering the return of 16 717s.

A Boeing Capital spokesman says all 16 of these aircraft have now been returned and are sitting at a Boeing facility in the desert. But he declined to comment on a potential deal with Mexicana.

"We're talking to a large number of customers. We're not talking about the particulars," he says. "They [the 16 airplanes] are in the remarketing process."

While Midwest was the second largest 717 operator after AirTran, which has 86 of the type, there are several airliners with small fleets. This includes carriers in Australia, Spain and Thailand which have been looking to offload 717s.

The Mexicana spokesman says the 717 and Fokker 100 burn about the same amount of fuel and cost about the same to operate but the carrier believes the 717 will be easier to support.

"With the Fokker 100 we don't have problems now but we believe in future we'll have problems getting parts," the spokesman says. He adds while the 717 is no longer in production Mexicana is confident Boeing will continue to support the aircraft with an adequate pool of parts.

Click launched in 2005, initially operating 10 Fokker 100s which were formerly with Mexicana mainline. As Mexicana has handed Click more domestic routes in response to increased competition from local low-cost carriers, Click took on leases for 16 additional Fokker 100s.

The last six of Click's Fokker 100s were only delivered last year but the spokesman says these are on short-term leases. He says the first batch of Fokker 100 leases expire this year and the plan would be to begin taking 717s as these leases expire.

Click's strategy is to operate a single aircraft type on thinner routes. Mexicana, which operates Airbus A318s and A319s in two-class configuration, plans to maintain its presence on denser domestic routes such as Mexico City to Guadalajara, Monterrey, Cancun and Tijauana.

The spokesman says a decision has not yet been made on how to configure the 717s or on exactly how many 717s will be acquired. But he says Click, which now only offers economy class on its Fokker 100s, could opt to keep the two-class configuration currently on the Midwest 717s,

He adds "we're thinking of a number like 25" and in a few years "we will take a look at what product is available" before selecting a long-term solution for Click's fleet.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news