Virgin Blue today announced an order for up to 18 ATR72 aircraft, comprising both the -500 and -600 variants.

The first four ATR72 aircraft will be delivered in the middle of this year with another four to arrive next year. It is not clear yet how many of the 18 aircraft are firm orders, or how the order will be broken down by variant.

Virgin Blue will wetlease the aircraft from West Australia operator SkyWest under an agreement announced last month.

Skywest in turn will lease the aircraft from leasing company Avation with an initial term of ten years.

"The ATR will form the foundation of our regional network plans, with the first six ATRs replacing our current Embraer E170 fleet and the additional aircraft flying to new regional destinations," chief executive John Borghetti says.

"The ATR is the best aircraft to operate on regional routes throughout Australia," he adds.

Borghetti says the ATR72 burns one-third less fuel than the E170. He adds that it also burns 20-30% less than its competing aircraft, a statement likely in reference to the Bombardier Dash 8-400 aircraft that QantasLink operates on its regional routes.

The carrier last August announced it was removing its six E170s as the aircraft was not a right fit for its network. It expects to make announcements in the near future about the E170 fleet's removal.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news