Paul Lewis/MANILA

PHILIPPINE Airlines (PAL) wants to finalise the selection of a new regional jet by the end of the year, as a replacement for its fleet of loss-making Fokker 50 turboprops.

Domestic fares on routes operated by turbprops are limited, but the introduction of turbofans would allow PAL to increase fares.

A decision needs to be made within the next five months, if the delivery of the first aircraft is to meet the airline's end-of-1997 target, says PAL senior vice-president Antonio Ocampo. The carrier is looking to acquire up to 15 70- to 100-seat-class aircraft. With the demise of Fokker, the choice has been narrowed to the Aero International (Regional) Avro RJ85 and 100, the proposed Canadair CRJ-X and the McDonnell Douglas MD-95. The last two contenders, however, could not meet PAL's in-service deadline.

Key criteria in the selection have been a short take-off performance and dispersed pavement loadings, for the jets to operate from many of the smaller Philippines airports. The leased turboprops will either be returned to Fokker or sub-leased to local start-up carriers, according to Ocampo.

Fokker's departure has given added urgency to PAL's plan to phase out its turboprops. According to PAL executive vice-president Manolo Aquino, the Dutch manufacturer has withdrawn its technical-support representative and the airline is experiencing delays in getting spares for its ten aircraft.

The regional-jet requirement forms part of a larger fleet-re-equipment programme designed to improve competitiveness and combat mounting losses. The airline lost 1.7 billion pesos ($65 million) in fiscal year 1994-5, and audited results, due out shortly, are expected to show a further 2 billion peso loss for the year ending 31 March.

Under the $3.2 billion fleet upgrade, PAL plans to phase out all ten leased Boeing 747-200s, 11 Airbus A300B4s and four of its 12 Boeing 737-300s.

To replace them, it has ordered eight A340-200/ 300s, eight A330-300s and 12 A320s, for delivery between October 1996 and December 1998. It is also finalising an order for seven 747-400s, to supplement the four in service.

The carrier has just introduced the A340, with the delivery of the first of two -300s on a one-year wet-lease from Gulf Air as an interim measure. Two McDonnell Douglas MD-11ERs have also been wet-leased from World Airways, with two more to follow in October.

Source: Flight International