SILKAIR OF SINGAPORE is drawing up plans to re-equip its fleet with a new range of larger and longer range 150-seat and 100-seat aircraft over the next five years.

The carrier says that its existing fleet of five 118-seat Boeing 737-300s needs to be replaced if it is to keep pace with growth in passenger traffic and open up new regional destinations in Asia. It wants to begin introducing a new 150-seat aircraft from late 1998 onwards.

"With the 737-300, we're hitting our limit at 4h," says SilkAir general manager Michael Chan. "There are parts of China that are further than 4h away, and so if you want to be able to expand a little bit further, we need a longer-range aircraft," he adds. SilkAir now operates to Kunming and Xiamen in southern China, but would like to extend this to the popular tourist destination of Chengdu and possibly Guilin. An aircraft with an endurance of 5-6h would "-open up a little bit bigger world for use," says Chan.

At the same time the airline is beginning to search for a larger capacity replacement for its 78-seat Fokker 70s, which are leased until 2000. The aircraft are now being used mainly on start-up routes to Indonesia, but as markets mature, SilkAir is thinking of opting for two 100-seat size jet-powered aircraft.

Chan says that SilkAir would ideally like to replace its 737-300s and Fokker 70s with a common family of aircraft. Its interest is focused primarily on the Airbus A319/A320, Boeing 737-600/700/ 800 and McDonnell Douglas MD-90 and MD-95.

No final decision has been taken on the number of aircraft needed, or whether to purchase or lease the new jets. It will depend on how many 737-300s are retained, if any, explains Chan. He adds: "It could be a mix of purchases and leases -we would have to look at the tax benefits."

The airline has already started talks with competing airframe manufacturers and expects to ask for formal proposals by the end of the year, with final selection due in 1997. In the interim SilkAir has signed a letter of intent to lease a sixth 737-300 from General Electric Capital for three years .


Source: Flight International