SAS expects to launch a competition early next year to select a 70-90-seat regional jet family. The carrier requires around 20 aircraft for use on long thin routes, mainly from Stockholm and Oslo.

The Scandinavian carrier, which does not operate regional jets, plans to complete a detailed study into its requirements by the end of this year. It is looking to introduce the aircraft from around 2003.

"I think we will conclude that we need some of these aircraft in our fleet," says SAS senior vice-president Vagn Sorensen.

"Our main interest would be 70 seats and upwards," he adds.

SAS Commuter, the airline's regional subsidiary, last week introduced into revenue service the first of 22 Bombardier Dash 8 Q400s, which will replace its Fokker 50 and Saab 2000 turboprops.

The carrier faces growing competition from operators flying similar-sized jets on longer sectors, however. In response it wet-leases a 50-seat Embraer RJ-145 for flights between Stockholm and Zurich.

Sorensen says routes longer than 925km (500nm) are considered by SAS to be "jet territory", but adds that regional jet use by Commuter will require approval from the parent company's pilots. He confirms that SAS Commuter is studying Star Alliance associate Lufthansa CityLine's evaluation of the Fairchild 728JET family. This opens the possibility of SAS buying 728JETs with the same specification as that for the German carrier for its order of 60 aircraft. One option is for partner airlines to operate the regional jets on its behalf, says Sorensen.

Meanwhile, Airbus and Boeing are competing for SAS' nearer-term requirement for up to fifteen 180-seat aircraft for high-density European routes. The airline must decide whether to remain faithful to Boeing's Next Generation 737 family, or opt for Airbus' A321.

Source: Flight International