EXPANSION DRIVE: Airline targets Indochina market, mulls 90-seater aircraft
FRESH from receiving the first of 20 ATR72-600 turboprop aircraft that it ordered last December, Firefly chief executive officer Ignatius Ong has hinted the possibility of the airline being a launch customer for Avoids de Transport Regional G.I.E (ATR)'s proposed next-generation turboprop (NGTP) 90-seater aircraft.
"If it is available now, I would grab it," Ong said at a briefing here. "A 90-seater aircraft would fit nicely into Firefly's route expansion plan."
The NGTP, however, is still on the drawing board, with ATR seeking inputs from its customers in Southeast Asia, Latin America and Europe.
Malaysia is its biggest customer in the region, counting Firefly, MASWings and Berjaya Air as its clients.
ATR would need at least 50 confirmed orders and 50 options in order to launch the NGTP programme, expected to be in 2019 or 2020.
"We are aware of the (NGTP). We are considering it as we would be operating into congested airports and with slots being limited, we can put into operation aircraft with higher capacity to help meet the demand," he said.
In the meantime, Firefly will deploy its current fleet of 12 ATR72-500s and the 20 ATR72-600s, which will be delivered between now and 2016, on existing and new routes.
It currently operates 25 routes, 10 of which are in Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore.
Last year, it carried 1.7 million passengers.
It is set to make Kota Baru and Johor Baru as its hubs and expand its network to Indochina, such as Vietnam and Cambodia, as early as next year following the introduction of the ATR72-600 turboprop aircraft into its fleet.
Kota Baru will serve points in southern Thailand while Johor Baru will service Sumatra. Firefly will commence the Johor Baru-Pekan Baru service in August.
It currently operates out of Subang and Penang, connecting secondary destinations within the Indonesia-Malaysia-Thailand growth triangle.
Ong said Firefly will exercise the option for 16 additional ATR72-600s once all of its confirmed orders are delivered by 2016.
This would see Firefly phasing out the older ATR72-500s from 2015 onwards as Ong plans for Firefly to own and operate a fleet of aircraft with an average age of three years.
Earlier, he received Firefly's first ATR72-600 from ATR chief executive Filippo Bagnato in a simple ceremony at the Toulouse-Blagnac airport in France.
The second turboprop aircraft will be delivered later this year, with three planned for next year.
The aircraft flew out of the airport yesterday and will be making four stops - three night stops in Greece, Oman and Maldives and one refuelling stop in Bahrain - before arriving at the Subang Airport on Sunday evening.
The new aircraft will begin operations on July 12.