Boeing operator could require up to 20 regional jets
Australian low-cost carrier Virgin Blue has been assessing Embraer 170/190 regional jets and may be close to making a business case for an order.
Industry sources say the Boeing 737-700/800 operator has been assessing the large regional jets for some time and could potentially be interested in between 10 and 20 aircraft. In early April the manufacturer demonstrated its 70-seat 170 to the airline at its Brisbane base.
A regional jet order would represent a departure for the four-year-old carrier from most low-cost carriers' age-old strategy of operating a single type of aircraft. There is a precedent, however, as last year US-based JetBlue Airways broke from tradition and ordered 100 Embraer 190s to operate alongside its Airbus A320-family aircraft.
The sources say Virgin Blue's business development unit has looked at several different types of aircraft seating fewer passengers than its 737-700/800s and may be close to making a business case that could result in a future Embraer order. The key concern is that introducing a second aircraft type would increase maintenance and pilot training costs, however, and the sources stress that the airline may ultimately decide against it.
But if acquired, regional jets would be used to increase frequencies on some of Virgin Blue's thin routes to secondary destinations, and enable it to open new services to small points that either cannot be served with 737s or where demand is not enough to justify operations with larger aircraft.
No Embraer regional jets are currently flying in Australia, although several of the manufacturer's customers in the country operate its older turboprops. Embraer declines to comment on discussions with Virgin Blue and the airline insists it is "not looking at any other aircraft type at this time other than the 737s currently on order that have been approved by the board". It adds that it has four 737-700/800s due for delivery next year.
NICHOLAS IONIDES / SINGAPORE
Source: Flight International