Uruguay's Pluna has decided against further growing its fleet in 2009 and has deferred all eight of its options for additional Bombardier CRJ900s by at least one year.

Pluna, after being sold by the Uruguayan government to German-based investment firm Leadgate, placed an order in July 2007 for seven CRJ900s NextGen regional jets plus eight options. CEO Matias Campiani says the Montevideo-based carrier has taken delivery of five CRJ900s since April, will take a sixth this week and the seventh on 20 December.

But he says the eight options, which under the original schedule would have lapsed this year, have been "rolled back". Campiani explains that Pluna, after going through a major transformation since the Leadgate-installed management team took over 18 months ago, has decided to let all the changes "settle" for one year and expansion will again be considered in 2010.

"There's a great deal of uncertainty in the economy so I guess everyone will be cautious," Campiani told ATI on the sidelines of last week's ALTA airline leaders' forum in Cancun.

While Campiani expects Pluna will have its first break even month in November or December since the carrier was privatised, he is cautious for 2009 and believes it is prudent to hold off for now in further expansion.

"There's such an uncertainty in the economy it will be hard to predict [profitability for 2009]. This crisis we're living in is very serious and affects everyone," he says.

Pluna started this year with a fleet of five aircraft consisting of one Boeing 767, one 757 and three older generation Boeing 737s. The 767 had been used for Pluna's only long-haul service, connecting Montevideo with Madrid, which was dropped in September after chalking up losses of $2 million per month.

Campiani says all of Pluna's Boeing aircraft have now been phased out and Pluna is only operating the CRJ900.

He adds the CRJ900 has proven to be the right size aircraft for Pluna's network as it has allowed the carrier to increase frequencies to key business centres such as Buenos Aires, Santiago and Sao Paulo while launching new thin routes to such destinations as Asuncion in Paraguay. "In a crisis situation I think we have the right size aircraft," he says.

More frequencies and new destinations are an important part of Pluna's new business model, which focuses on turning Montevideo into a hub for the Southern Cone of South America. Pluna previously was primarily an origin and destination carrier with less than 10% of its traffic connecting. Campiani says Pluna has already succeeded at increasing its transfer business to 33%.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news