Andrew Doyle/GERONA

Boeing is close to securing a second European airline customer for its 717 following Spanish regional start-up AB Bluestar's announcement that it intends to order six of the twinjets and take nine options.

Spanish rival Air Nostrum, meanwhile, has concluded a major deal with Canada's Bombardier covering firm orders for 15 Canadair Regional Jet (CRJ) Series 200ERs and 29 Dash 8 Q300s. In addition, 40 options can be taken as any variant of the CRJ or Dash 8 families.

Palma de Mallorca-based AB Bluestar, part owned by regional operator Spanair, aims to begin operations in June with an initial three 717s serving Alicante, Bilbao, Ibiza, Mahon and Valencia from Madrid. Another three of the Rolls-Royce BR715-powered aircraft will be handed over next year.

Gonzalo Pascual Arias, the chief executive of Spanair who is setting up the airline with business partner Gerardo Diaz, says he expects to sign a firm contract with Boeing within the next few weeks. AB Bluestar will be 65% owned by Teinver - an investment company controlled by Arias and Diaz - with Spanair holding the other shares.

Spanair, 49%-owned by SAS, operates an extensive Spanish domestic and European network of scheduled and charter flights and with the launch of AB Bluestar will go head-to-head with Iberia and Air Nostrum in the regional market for the first time.

The 717s will be purchased directly from Boeing rather than leased. They will seat 115 passengers in two classes. Olympic Aviation is the only European operator of the aircraft to date.

Arias says AB Bluestar could later start international flights if some of the 717 options are exercised. "If we want to try to become an alternative to Iberia then we have to compete in all of their markets," he says.

Valencia-based Air Nostrum's latest order underscores the carrier's rapid growth since its formation only six years ago. The airline operates more than 1,000 flights weekly to 37 domestic and international destinations. Deliveries of the new aircraft will begin at the end of this year.

The current fleet includes five CRJ-200s, with a sixth on firm order before the latest deal, plus five ATR72-500 and 23 Fokker 50 turboprops.

Air Nostrum's decision to place such a large order with Bombardier appears to be a serious blow to Franco-Italian consortium ATR, which only recently handed over the ATR 72s to the airline. It is unclear when the older turoprops will be phased out.

Source: Flight International