Posted on: 13 March 2014 by Mark Howells
Etihad Regional has completed an agreement with Nordic Aviation Capital (NAC) to lease four ATR 72-500s, which will see the carrier boost its regional fleet to 12 to support rapid expansion of the carrier’s network following its rebranding in the market from Darwin Airline.
Maurizio Merlo, CEO of Etihad Regional, reported that the first ATR 72-500 will join the fleet on 1 April. “The second aircraft will come at the end of April, the third in May and the fourth in June,” he added.
“The decision to order an aeroplane is difficult, because there are many aspects that come into play and we always choose for some years into the future,” Merlo explained. “We also consider all the costs – maintenance, performance, etc are all taken into account. These aircraft will go onto routes where 50 seats is not sufficient anymore.
“The fleet will follow the business plan with 8 Saab 2000s and 4 ATRs. This is what we have planned for the next few years. Then we will see,” he commented.
The company owns three of its Saab 2000s and has five on lease, including two from NAC. “We have recently renewed some of the leases, so although they are likely to be phased out at some stage, we will have some staying for a while,” Merlo admitted.
Meanwhile, the expansion of the fleet also means increasing staff. “We are hiring 16 captains, 16 first officers and about 40 flight attendants to take us a total of 290 staff covering 18 different nationalities,” the CEO noted, before confirming that training will be performed by the airline itself, and partly outsourced to Farnair, another Swiss carrier which operates ATRs and also has a simulator.
Merlo reported that pilots who used to fly for Air Dolomiti – the former operator of some of the four ATRs Etihad Regional is taking – are also available. Not that there is a problem sourcing pilots. “On the contrary, we have more CVs than the number of pilots required,” he emphasised.
The ATRs will initially be used in the Italian market. “Depending on how the network develops, we will see if we can move the 68-seater into other routes,” Merlo remarked.
When it comes to the onboard product, Etihad Regional will still feature Swiss culture, according to Peter Baumgartner, the carrier’s vice-chairman. “Etihad Regional won’t be a copy of Etihad Airways, as it has a history of its own. The sight of a Swiss flag on an airline raises expectations. So we believe the Swiss have similar quality standards to those of a modern Middle East airline, which is what we are. And alongside the Swiss flag, as part of the livery, there is an E on the tail which stands for emotion and excellence,” he explained.
“For both Etihad Airways and Etihad Regional, passengers come first, so we will be trying to improve the passenger experience. The aircraft in this lease agreement will allow us to use wide leather seats in a roomy cabin with good size luggage bins,” Baumgartner added. “The expansion is a courageous decision considering the climate in Europe, but we are convinced that it will be a success.”
ATR’s CEO Filippo Bagnato stressed the importance of the agreement with Etihad Regional and NAC, the lessor with world’s biggest ATR fleet, in starting the expansion of the carrier’s fleet with ATR aircraft. “ATR will work side by side to support Etihad Regional, so that with our contribution, the history of the airlines will be a success,” he remarked.
Bagnato also reported that the OEM and the airline are currently working to finalise a Global Maintenance Agreement (GMA). “Part of that [support agreement] will include ensuring that the aircraft will be ready for their introduction into Etihad Regional service,” he added.
Photo shows (l-r): Peter Baumgartner, vice-chairman, Etihad Regional; Maurizio Merlo, CEO, Etihad Regional; and Filippo Bagnato, CEO, ATR.
Bernie Baldwin, editor, Low-Fare & Regional Airlines/LARAnews.net