Uruguay's Pluna is looking to acquire additional Bombardier CRJ900s to support expansion at new Argentinean sister carrier AeroVIP.

Pluna CEO Matias Campiani says he is seeking "two to three" CRJ900s for delivery in 2010. He says the aircraft will be used to expand AeroVIP's CRJ900 fleet from one to two or three aircraft and Pluna's CRJ900 fleet from six to seven or eight aircraft.

"We're looking for more airplanes. We want to continue to expand in Argentina and Uruguay," Campiani tells ATI.

Pluna has several outstanding options for CRJ900 NextGen regional jets as part of its original 2007 order for seven firm aircraft plus eight options. Campiani says Pluna is now talking to Bombardier about exercising one option for a delivery slot at the end of 2010.

He adds Pluna is also is interested in taking one or two additional aircraft in mid 2010 but the carrier is looking to lease aircraft for this part of its fleet expansion requirement. He explains it is too late to exercise options for mid 2010 delivery given the typical lead time for exercising options.

Campiani says Pluna, which previously looked at Bombardier Q400 turboprops, is only considering CRJ900s at this time. But he says he is willing to lease non-NextGen versions of the CRJ900.

Pluna's majority shareholder, Leadgate, earlier this year acquired a 60% stake in AeroVIP, a Argentinean regional airline which ceased operations in 2004. After a long delay as it waited for clearance from Argentinean authorities to re-launch services, AeroVIP resumed operations in late September using one CRJ900 NextGen aircraft leased from Pluna.

Campiani says AeroVIP is now operating scheduled flights between Buenos Aires' Aeroparque downtown airport and Punta del Este and Montevideo in Uruguay as well as some charters. Both the Punta del Este and Montevideo routes are also served by Pluna and were previously served by AeroVIP, which had held onto its Argentina-Uruguay traffic rights although they were dormant for five years.

Campiani says AeroVIP will use any additional CRJ900s that it takes next year to launch new international routes. He says the business plan envisions linking Buenos Aires with secondary cities in neighbouring countries that are not served by Aerolineas Argentinas.

"We have a strategy of complimenting Aerolineas," Campiani says. "We see it as a non-compete strategy."

He adds AeroVIP and Pluna are also open to forging a partnership with Aerolineas Argentinas. The government-owned carrier currently does not have any codeshares but its chief commercial officer, Juan Pablo Lafosse, told ATI earlier this month it plans to pursue relationships with other carriers in the region as part of its new business plan.

"I see a new attitude in the management team at Aerolineas Argentinas," Campiani says. "I am optimistic we will be able to forge a good partnership,"

Pluna already codeshares with Brazil's TAM and Spain's Iberia. Campiani says it also may expand a new partnership it has with Chile's Sky Airline covering Santiago-Punta Arenas, a domestic route in Chile Pluna plans to launch in November, to include a codeshare.

"Pluna is meant to be a partner of other airlines," he says. "We're a feeder airline."

Matias adds Latin America's smaller airlines "need to look for solutions as we'll never be part of a big alliance. We can't be isolated so we need to forge more alliances."

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news