Mexicana has accelerated its acquisition of Boeing 717s, which have begun replacing the fleet of Fokker 100s operated by low-cost unit Click.

Grupo Mexicana agreed early this year to lease from Boeing Capital 25 ex-Midwest Airlines 717s. Mexicana originally was going to take delivery of one aircraft per month with the first eight to be delivered this year, 12 in 2010 and the last five in the first half of 2011.

But Mexicana chief executive Manuel Borja says deliveries have been accelerated and Click has just placed into service its tenth 717. He says the carrier now aims to take the 25th and final 717 at the end of next year.

He says Boeing Capital is eager to deliver the final 15 aircraft even faster because all the aircraft are now sitting in the desert or are about to go to the desert. "It's in their best interest to accelerate," Borja told ATI at the ALTA 2009 Airline Leaders Forum in Cartagena, adding he had a conversation with Boeing Capital at the forum.

All 25 of the 717s going to Click were last operated by Midwest Airlines. The Milwaukee-based carrier is preparing to operate its last 717 flight early next month as part of a plan to replace its 717 fleet with Embraer E-170/190s operated by its new parent company, Republic Airways Holding.

While all the 717s will soon be available for delivery to Grupo Mexicana, Borja says it may be difficult to complete the fleet replacement project at Click earlier than late 2010 due to pilot training limitations. He says getting sufficient 717 simulator time to speed up the conversion of Click's Fokker 100 pilots to the 717 is challenging and there is also a "capacity of instructors" issue.

"We want to accelerate but it's more an issue to train pilots," Borja says.

Click's 717s are being delivered in two-class configuration with 84 economy and 20 business class seats. The carrier's Fokker 100s are in single class configuration with 100 economy seats.

Borja says the response to the 717s and the introduction of business class at Click has so far been positive. He says the business class has generated "some extra revenues" but more importantly it has allowed Grupo Mexicana to attract more frequent fliers, giving it a "competitive advantage" over rival Aeromexico. Borja says Aeromexico uses Embraer ERJ-145s operated by regional unit Aeromexico Express on several Click routes.

Click currently operates domestically and to Havana in Cuba. Mexicana has been returning Click's fleet of Fokker 100s, which stood at 25 aircraft at the beginning of this year, to leasing companies as it has taken delivery of additional 717s.

Borja says for "the time being 25 is the number" and Click has no requirement for additional 717s. Grupo Mexicana has agreed to lease all 25 of aircraft for seven years. Borja says after seven years the 717s could potentially be replaced by Bombardier CSeries but if the Mexican domestic market grows enough they could also be replaced by Airbus or Boeing narrowbodies.

"We're looking at our options but are in no hurry. Seven years is a long ways' away," Borja says. "We need to take it one step at a time. The 717 is a good bridge aircraft for seven years."

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news