Tuesday, July 31, 2012

PLUNA Update: Many Former Pilots & Flight Attendants Hired by BQB

While the future of PLUNA's assets, mainly aircraft and routes, remains uncertain, BQB Lineas Aereas has hired eight of the 128 pilots that PLUNA employed and 20 of its former flight attendants.  In addition, 80 pilots have received offers from carriers in Chile, Panama and even as far away as China and Vietnam, according to the pilots' union ACIPLA.  This is credible as there are flightcrew shortages in many regions around the world. 

Many ex-PLUNA pilots have interviewed at COPA Panama where the pay is US$ 8,900 per month, far in excess of the US$ 5,000 monthly wages they were making at PLUNA that had one of the lowest payscales in the region.  The pilot positions with the best pay and benefits are in the Middle East.

If many ex-PLUNA pilots find jobs elsewhere, the buyers of the seven CRJ-900's might find themselves with a lack of qualified flightcrew to fly the airplanes. 

Source: El Pais Uruguay 12Jul12, 16Jul12, 18Jul12 

Monday, July 30, 2012

FLEET UPDATE: Lineas Aereas del Sur 737-200 - Corrections

Blog reader Maximo Gainza has been kind enough to write with several corrections to yesterday's posting regarding Lineas Aereas del Sur:

1) The airline was founded sometime in 2010, not 2005, with the first charter taking place in August or September 2011.  It operated very few charter flights during its existence; probably fewer than a dozen.

2) LV-ZXC never flew for Chilean carrier Aerolineas del Sur, having been one of the last 737-200's retired by Aerolineas Argentinas in 2009.

3) If the aircraft is due for a C-Check it is more likely due to calendar expiration rather than hours flown.

4) The Bolivian Air Force might be interested in acquiring it for TAM - Transporte Aereo Militar, which might explain why it is parked in Mendoza.  

Maximo also comments that the only other Argentine 737-200 operator, ARJet, which operates LV-ZYY, is flying occasional charters but also has a doubtful future.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Lineas Aereas del Sur 737-200 Charter Carrier Suspending Operations

Lineas Aereas del Sur, 737-200, LV-ZXC (msn 23160/1053)
rests at Cordoba (COR) on 18Mar12

Lineas Aereas del Sur, a small charter airline based in Cordoba, Argentina and operator of one  737-200 registration LV-ZXC, has asked the Argentine Civil Aviation Administration (ANAC by its Spanish initials) to suspend its operating certificate for a period of six months, effective June 1.

The airline, started up in March 2005, is owned by Buenos Aires businessmen Carlos Cedrato and Alfredo Montalván who have interests in various transportation companies.  The airline had 17 employees but recently laid off all but four of them, including two pilots.  Its most recent flight was on March 14 between Buenos Aires Ezeiza (EZE) and Calafate (FTE) carrying a group of Spanish tourists. 

LV-ZXC is currently due for a "C" check and is parked in Mendoza.  It was delivered to British Airways in 1984 and has also flown with Aerolineas Argentinas and its short-lived Chilean affiliate, Aerolineas del Sur.

Sources:  Aviacion News 19Jul12
              www.airfleets.net
Photo:     Phil Perry

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Expensive Argentine Peso & Currency Restrictions = Fewer Charter Flights

Argentine government controls on the US$ exchange rate keeping it at an artificially low 4.60 pesos to 1 US$ has made travel to Argentina more expensive for Brazilians resulting in only 40 or so charter flights by GOL and TAM from Brazil to the Argentine ski resort of Bariloche, far fewer than the 140 flights originally planned.  The slowing Brazilian economy and weaker Real are surely factors too.  

Also, Aerolineas Argentinas has fewer flights from Sao Paulo to Bariloche plus Las Lenas, San Martin de los Andes and Ushuaia are also receiving fewer charter flights than expected this winter season.

Restrictions imposed by the Argentine government on purchases of US$ by Argentine citizens have also seen a reduced number of outbound charters.

Source: Aviacion News 19Jul12

Friday, July 27, 2012

PHOTO GALLERY: PLUNA 737-200's !

PLUNA 737-200, CX-BHM (msn 20299)
possibly at Seattle (SEA) upon return to Boeing
(Photo: Courtesy of Eric Trum Collection)

This aircraft has an interesting and varied history having been delivered by Boeing directly to PLUNA on 31Dec69 where it served on the "Air Bridge" linking Montevideo (MVD) and Buenos Aires Aeroparque (AEP) plus flights to Rio de Janeiro until it was repossessed by Boeing in 1974.  This was PLUNA's first jet aircraft and it remained so until the airline took delivery of two used 727-100's from Lufthansa in the late 1970's.  CX-BHM and one of PLUNA's Viscounts were the only planes in the airline's fleet to be painted in the carrier's colorful "orange-belly" scheme.

This 737-200 went on to serve 22 years with SAHSA of Honduras until 1996 when it was transferred to WestJet of Canada.  WestJet retired the plane in 2003 and it went on to Kingston University in the UK where its fuselage is used for aerospace instruction at the university's Faculty of Science, Engineering and Computing.

                engineering-msc/who-teaches-this-course.html

 
PLUNA 737-200, CX-BOO (msn 22738)
at MVD in delivery colors
(Photo: Courtesy of Eric Trum Collection)

CX-BOO was one of three 737-200s delivered to PLUNA in 1982, the others being CX-BON and CX-BOP. The three aircraft replaced the two 727-100's, CX-BKA and CX-BKB, purchased from Lufthansa.  This aircraft served with PLUNA for 26 years until it was retired in 2008.  It was also leased to Transavia Holland and Britannia a few times.  Today the aircraft is in the hands of Global Air of Mexico.


CX-BOO in its final PLUNA colors. 
(Photo: Courtesy of Eric Trum Collection)

PLUNA 737-200, PP-VMI (msn 21004)
at MVD in VARIG colors
(Photo: Courtesy of Eric Trum Collection)

This 737-200 flew with PLUNA only briefly from 1998-99 when it was returned to VARIG.  It flew in a hybrid PLUNA/VARIG scheme.

Source: http://www.airfleets.net/ficheapp/plane-b737-21004.htm

PLUNA 737-200, PP-VPD, (msn 21518/522)
later reregistered as CX-FAT 
(Photo: Courtesy of Eric Trum Collection)

This aircraft was delivered to Far East Air Transport of Taiwan in 1978 and has since seen service with several carriers.  PLUNA operated it from 1998 - 2001 with Uruguayan artist Carlos Paez Vilaro painting it in the above special scheme, often, but mistakenly referred to as the "Aztec" scheme due to its similarity to Mexican art.  Today, msn 21518/522 flies for the Indonesian Air Force as A-7304.

Source: www.airfleets.net

Thursday, July 26, 2012

FLEET UPDATE: American Jet to acquire Two ATR-42's from TRIP of Brazil

American Jet, a charter carrier that is based at Buenos Aires Aeroparque (AEP) but does most of its flying in the Argentine province of Neuquen, is due to get two ATR-42's from Brazilian airline TRIP, as this carrier sheds its ATR-42 fleet as part of its merger with Azul Linhas Aereas.  The ATR-42's will complement American Jet's existing fleet of one Learjet 35, two Dornier 228's, and three Metro IIIA's and are expected to be used for flights to a remote mine in Neuquen. 

The first aircraft to be delivered is expected to be ATR-42-300, PP-ATV, (msn 298) originally delivered to Canadian Regional Airlines as C-GICY in 1993.
 

Sources:  http://linea-ala.blogspot.com.ar/search?q=american+jet
             http://www.aeropuertosarg.com.ar/losforos
                www.aircharterguide.com

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

PLUNA - 3 CRJ-900's need Significant Maintenance before Sale

PLUNA CRJ-900, CX-CRA

PLUNA CRJ-900, CX-CRB

PLUNA CRJ-900, CX-CRC

The PLUNA pilots' union, the Asociacion Civil de Pilotos de Lineas Aereas (ACIPLA), informed a committee of the Uruguayan House of Representatives that three of PLUNA's CRJ-900's; CX-CRA, CX-CRB, and CX-CRC, the earliest deliveries to the airline, require US$ 5 million in maintenance work, a cost that has not been taken into account in the upcoming auction of PLUNA's assets.  The union has also warned that the longer the former PLUNA fleet stays on the ground the greater the costs that will be incurred due to ongoing maintenance required to keep the aircraft flight-ready.

Source: El Pais Uruguay 11Jul12      

Monday, July 23, 2012

PLUNA CRJ-900 Incident on Approach to Punta del Este (PDP) - US$ 500,000 Repair

PLUNA CRJ-900, CX-CRI

PLUNA CRJ-900 CX-CRI has been parked inoperative at Uruguay's Punta del Este (PDP) airport for about a month due to an APU (Auxiliary Power Unit) cover that it lost over the town of Pan de Azucar while on final approach to PDP at the end of a ferry flight from Montevideo (MVD). The loss of the cover apparently damaged the rudder and horizontal stabilizer with replacement cost of the APU cover estimated at US$ 120,000 and other repair costs estimated at three times that amount.

The aircraft was moved to the large Uruguayan Navy hangar at the airport where it has been worked on by Bombardier technicians. The cost of repairs have not been calculated into PLUNA's debt load.

Source: El Pais Uruguay 08Jul12, 11Jul12

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Aerolineas Argentinas presents "2012 Operational Plan"

Aerolineas Argentinas president Mariano Recalde, along with Minister of Tourism Enrique Mayer and Chamber of Tourism president Osca Ghezzi, recently presented the airline's "2012 Operational Plan", the main purpose of which is to "promote domestic and inbound international tourism and strengthen the airline's presence in strategic markets to improve the profitability of its route network."

Specific actions to be taken include "consolidating" the "Corredores Federales" and "Corredor Petrolero" introduced during the last year that directly connect important Argentine cities and destinations to each other without having to go through the carrier's Buenos Aires' hubs.   Also planned are increased frequencies in the existing domestic route networks of Aerolineas / Austral,
including the addition of new cities, such as the new service that will soon start to Rio Hondo (RHD) in Santiago de Estero province.  

Mr. Recalde claimed that the two carriers increased domestic frequencies by 26% this year but he did not clarify if there was a net increase in seats too, as the 150-seater MD-80 fleet was retired and replaced by smaller 100-seat EMB-190's.  In the two-year period from March 2010 to March 2012, the number of passengers carried on the AR/AU "regional" route network (usually defined as  international routes within South America) increased by 41%.     

Internationally, Aerolineas is looking to increase frequencies to Barcelona (BCN), Bogota (BOG), Caracas (CCS), and Miami (MIA), adding an additional flight via Caracas.   Its flight to Sydney (SYD), which previously stopped in Auckland is now nonstop and will increase from three to four flights per week in December.  

Source: Aviacion News 14Jun12

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Air Class Metro CX-LAS - More Details on Finding

More details have emerged on the discovery of the remains of Air Class Metro CX-LAS yesterday submerged in the Rio de la Plata approx. one mile southeast of Isla de Flores. 

Hector Bado - Treasure Hunter

The Uruguayan Navy patrol boat "ROU 12 Paysandu "set sail yesterday morning with the famed treasure hunter Hector Bado and his diving team aboard to search using radar to detect anomalies in the sea floor followed with dives to confirm the nature of any objects that were potentially part of the lost aircraft. 

Mr. Bado has led the discovery of several high-profile shipwrecks off the Uruguayan coast, the most famous dives being not for the purposes of discovery, but rather recovery of several items from the sunken World War II German Navy heavy cruiser, the Graf Spee, scuttled by its commander off the coast of Montevideo in December 1939.  Objects recovered include a 27-ton "telemeter" range finder and the ship's Nazi eagle emblem.

Moment of Discovery

At about 3:30pm, after three dives that had not turned up anything, Mr. Bado saw on the radar screen of the sweeping device an object 6-8 meters long that he believed could be the plane's fuselage.  Two divers went down in the shallow waters to investigate.  Mr. Bado and the ship's crew anxiously waited for them to resurface and they were not disappointed as the two men emerged with part of what appeared to be the Metro's nose landing gear.  On further dives they recovered a part from the wing and an "electric charger".  The three objects were determined to be from the Metro confirming that they had found the aircraft. 

What appears to be the plane's tail was located some 40 meters from the fuselage.  Additionally, there are many unidentified small objects scattered around the plane's fuselage.  Maybe the packages that it was carrying ?

Mr. Bado first announced the find to the world through his Facebook page exclaiming "We just found the plane, God exists!".

Possible Crash Hypothesis

There is speculation that something happened disabling the aircraft but that the commander of the flight, Captain Walter Rigo, was able to control the plane until it hit the water, possibly in a ditching maneuver.  This would explain why the plane is relatively intact and no floating parts were ever found which would have been more likely if it had crashed into the sea at high speed, resulting in a breakup.

There were at least three eyewitnesses, including one highly-qualified one that saw two explosions in the air south of Montevideo on the night of the crash which would suggest that there might have been some sort of uncontained engine failure leading to the aircraft's descent to the sea, possibly with the flight controls still being effective.

Recovery

The priority now is to recover the bodies of the two crewmen, Captain Walter Rigo (63) and First Officer Martin Riva (34), possibly tomorrow (Sunday, July 22) as weather conditions are unfavorable today. The Uruguayan Navy ship ROU Vanguardia will perform this task with Mr. Bado and his divers leading the effort.  Recovery of the Metro's "black box" that should help determine the cause of the crash will follow later on.

Source:  El Pais Uruguay 21Jul12
  

Friday, July 20, 2012

Air Class Metro CX-LAS FOUND !

The website of Argentine newspaper La Nacion reports that Uurguayan military authorities have confirmed that the remains of Air Class Metro CX-LAS, disappeared on the evening of Wednesday 06Jun12, were found this afternoon by a group of divers led by apparent elite diver Hector Bado and the Uruguayan Navy.  The aircraft is submerged in the Rio de la Plata sea approximately two miles southeast of Isla de Flores.  Family members of  the two flightcrew members Walter Rigo (63) and Martin Rivas (34) have been advised.   

Sourcse: www.lanacion.com.ar
             www.elpais.com.uy 

FLEET UPDATE: Aerolineas Argentinas recently received another 737-700, LV-CVX, the 17th in its Fleet

Aerolineas Argentinas 737-700, LV-CPH, rotates off AEP's runway 31 on 11Feb12.  This was the first Aerolineas 737-700 painted in the carrier's new color scheme. 

Aerolineas Argentinas recently took delivery of 737-700, LV-CVX, from ILFC (International Lease Finance Corporation), the fifth of ten it has on order from the leasing company and 17th it has taken delivery of in all since 2009.  The airline also has two 737-800's with two more on order.  Aerolineas expects to eventually have a fleet of 26 737-700/800's replacing its 737 "Classic" fleet of 737-200's and -500's which has already been retired.

Source: Aviacion News 14Jun12

Thursday, July 19, 2012

ROUTE UPDATES: Aerolineas Argentinas / Austral, Sol del Paraguay & GOL adding flights to MVD replacing PLUNA

GOL Linhas Aereas 737-800, PR-GGA
GOL will be adding new service from Sao Paulo Guarulhos (GRU) to Montevideo (MVD)

In the wake of PLUNA shutting down on July 6 resulting in the number of flight operations to/from Montevideo (MVD) dropping by about 50%, other airlines in the region are starting service or adding flights to the Uruguayan capital's airport.

Aerolineas Argentinas / Austral recently announced on their website that they will increase flights between Buenos Aires Aeroparque (AEP) and Montevideo (MVD) from 18 weekly services to 43, effective 01Aug12.  Since PLUNA's shutdown, the two airlines have mostly substituted larger equipment as a means of increasing capacity on the route, with relatively few additional flights.  They are also looking to add flights from AEP to Punta del Este (PDP), the Uruguayan resort, a route which was served mostly by PLUNA during the summer season and almost exclusively by the Uruguayan airline in the off-season.  Aerolineas / Austral will continue their existing seven weekly flights from Buenos Aires Ezeiza (EZE) to Montevideo (MVD).

Sol, the new airline of Paraguay that flies Fokker 100's from Asuncion (ASU) to Ciudad del Este (AGT) and Buenos Aires Ezeiza (EZE), has received authorization from the Paraguayan aviation authorities to start flights from ASU to MVD and is awaiting similar permission from Uruguay.   

GOL of Brazil, after withdrawing from most international markets in recent years, has announced that it will once again increase its international presence with new flights from Sao Paulo Guarulhos (GRU) to Asuncion (ASU), Santa Cruz de la Sierra (VVI) in Bolivia and Montevideo (MVD).  It is also adding flights from Buenos Aires Ezeiza (EZE) to three Brazilian airports that PLUNA previously connected from Argentina through its MVD hub; Campinas (VCP), Curitiba (CWB) and Florianapolis (FLN).  

Additionally, Flight Global reports that Aerolineas Argentinas has proposed to the Uruguayan government that it be allowed to fly some of the former PLUNA routes out of MVD, which were mostly to Brazil. 

Sources: El Pais Uruguay 18Jul12
             www.flightglobal.com
                http://aeronauticaparaguay.blogspot.com

Monday, July 16, 2012

ROUTE UPDATE: Delta Upgrading from 767-300 to A330-200 between ATL & EZE for Summer 2012/13

Delta Air Lines will be upgrading from the 767-300 to the Airbus A330-200 on its daily Atlanta (ATL) - Buenos Aires Ezeiza (EZE) route, effective 27Oct12. 

Delta operates the 767-300 in three different seating configurations; 185 Economy + 36 Business, 189 Economy + 30 Business and the "International" configuration of 169 Economy + 36 Business, for a total of 205 seats.   The airline's A330-200 "International" configuration holds 211 Economy + 32 Business for a total of 243 seats, making 38 more seats available on the route during the southern hemisphere summer season.  

Sources:  http://airlineroute.net/2012/07/14/dl-atleze-w12/ via Eric Trum
             http://seatexpert.com/seatmap/226/Delta_Air_Lines_Airbus_A330-200/

Sunday, July 15, 2012

PLUNA Update: Auction of 7 Company-Owned CRJ-900's & Route Rights

The Uruguayan government has passed a law establishing special rules for the liquidation of PLUNA, S.A., a private company with state participation, speeding up the process which normally takes 120 days or more.  There will be a two-step auction held no later than September 10.

TWO-STEP AUCTION

The first step will see the seven company-owned Bombardier CRJ-900's (six more were leased but will be returned to the lessor) auctioned as one lot with a base price of US$ 136 million which is equal to the guarantee that the Uruguayan government gave to the bank (ScotiaBank of Canada) that financed the aircraft purchase.  Should there be no bidders for this amount or more, there will be a second base price of US$ 100 million with the Uruguayan government paying the bank for the amount short of the US$ 136 million guarantee.     

The second step will be that the winning bidder of the aircraft will negotiate with the government to acquire PLUNA's former route rights and take on its employees.

PLUNA's employee unions have requested that US$ 12 million, equal to the amount of unpaid employee backwages, be added to the auction amount.  

CREDITORS

The first priorities of the auction are to pay off the secured loans on the aircraft and employee backwages followed by the other creditors, including ANCAP (Uruguayan national producer of petroleum and alcohol products) which is owed US$ 27 million for fuel, the Banco de la Republica Oriental de Uruguay (state bank) owed US$ 15 million in loans, and the estimated 70,000 passengers that paid some US$ 7 million for their tickets in advance.  However, it is doubtful that there will be much money, if any, available after the aircraft loans are paid. 
     
POTENTIAL BUYERS

There are reportedly two parties interested in participating in the auction, BQB Lineas Aereas and Grupo Eurnekian, which owns the Aeropuertos Argentinos 2000 airport franchise operating nearly all of Argentina's major airports that have commercial service.  There were also rumors at one point that LATAM, the newly-merged entity of LAN and TAM, is interested in acquiring the aircraft, but the editor of this blog believes that is doubtful since neither carrier operates the CRJ series of aircraft plus the MVD-based hub operation would be of questionable value to the Chilean/Brazilian airline as it might compete with its existing services more than being a new business opportunity.

ALTERNATIVE

If no companies bid on PLUNA's former assets, the new law allows the state to negotiate with private investors to form a new carrier with 25% state participation, similar to the partnership established with Leadgate several years ago, but still with the obligation that creditors be paid and PLUNA's former employees rehired.       

Source: El Pais Uruguay - several articles 09-12Jul12

Saturday, July 14, 2012

ROUTE UPDATE: BQB and SOL to Start "Regular" Flights on MVD-AEP "Air Bridge"

BQB recently announced that it would start regularly scheduled service on the Montevideo (MVD) - Buenos Aires Aeroparque (AEP) "Air Bridge" with its ATR-72-212A's on August 1 and SOL announced that it would add three more daily round-trips on the route with its Saab 340's on July 16.

After PLUNA shut down last week, BQB and SOL received authorization from the Uruguayan aviation authorities to fly between MVD-AEP on an "exceptional" or emergency basis only to be denied these rights by the Argentine aviation authorities.  The Argentine ANAC instead gave "exceptional" rights to Aerolineas Argentinas, indicating that it would not grant any other carriers such rights unless Aerolineas could not accommodate all the passenger demand on the route. 

The airline service agreement that Argentina and Uruguay have in place allows up to 60 "regular" flights per week by carriers from each country.  This would allow Uruguay to authorize BQB (a Uruguayan airline) to fly "regular" flights between MVD and AEP but the Uruguayan government wanted to reserve that privilege for the carrier that it hopes will form to replace PLUNA using the now-defunct airline's aircraft and employees.  However, there do not appear to be any private investors interested in taking over in the short run leaving the MVD-AEP "Air Bridge" seriously underserved, which is very important to Uruguay as the small country needs to be connected to Argentina for business travelers and to access the large number of airlines flying from there to the U.S., Europe, Australia, South Africa and even the Middle East. 

As a result, both the Uruguayan and Argentine aviation authorities have apparently given BQB route rights between MVD and AEP and SOL, a small Argentine commuter, expanded route rights between the two cities (they already fly the route with scheduled flights on a limited basis). 

Source: El Pais Uruguay 13Jul12

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

PLUNA Update: BQB and SOL Denied Authorization for MVD-AEP

Contrary to a previous report, only the Uruguayan aviation authorities gave approval for multiple flights by BQB Lineas Aereas (Uruguayan carrier) and SOL Lineas Aereas (Argentine) on the Montevideo (MVD) - Buenos Aires Aeroparque (AEP) route to replace the flights of PLUNA that has ceased operations.  The ANAC Argentine aviation authority denied permission for most of the flights with the result that only one extra flight each day, Saturday and Sunday, was operated by BQB this past weekend between Montevideo and Buenos Aires.  

Argentina has decided that the only carrier flying the "Air Bridge" connecting the two cities will be Aerolineas Argentinas with other carriers receiving permission to operate this route only if and when Aerolineas' flights are full.  Argentina has an obligation to allow equal "regularly scheduled" flights by Uruguayan carriers but the flights authorized by Uruguay were only "exceptional" flights and not "regular" flights.  Plus the only Uruguayan airline that is in a position to possibly fly between MVD and AEP is BQB but it is only authorized on the Buenos Aires Aeroparque (AEP) - Punta de Este, Uruguay (PDP) route as of now.  Also, the carrier can only offer limited capacity having just two ATR-72-212A's in its fleet.       

BQB might eventually fly MVD - AEP regularly scheduled flights if authorized to by the Uruguayan government but right now the government is hoping that a private investor will buy the seven company-owned PLUNA CRJ-900's and take over the former PLUNA operation, in which case the new investors would receive the MVD-AEP regularly-scheduled authorization.  Indeed, BQB itself might end up being the private investor that buys the former PLUNA assets as indicated in previous posts of this blog. 

Source:  El Pais Uruguay 10Jul12

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

ROUTE UPDATE: First LAN 787 Route will be Santiago - Buenos Aires by end of 2012



The Chilean aviation blog "En Vivo Desde SCL" reports that LAN's first 787-8 is nearing completion at Boeing's Everett, Washington factory and could be delivered to the airline as soon as August, even though officially it is not due until October. 

The Chilean carrier announced in March that the first cities to see 787 service would be its Santiago and Lima hubs plus Buenos Aires, Madrid, Los Angeles and Frankfurt.  However, specific route information was recently announced including Santiago (SCL) - Madrid (MAD) and Santiago (SCL) - Lima (LIM) - Los Angeles (LAX) but the very first service will be the intraregional route of Santiago (SCL) - Buenos Aires Ezeiza (EZE), presumably to integrate the new type into LAN's fleet on a route close to its home base before it starts flying the other two longer-distance routes which are also transoceanic in nature.  So Buenos Aires should see its first 787 service before the end of 2012 ! 

Source: En Vivo Desde SCL http://envivodesdescl.blogspot.com

Friday, July 6, 2012

PLUNA Update: BQB and SOL to offer 35 and 15 Weekly Frequencies respectively on MVD-AEP "Air Bridge"

BQB Lineas Aereas ATR-72-212A CX-JCL
one of two operated by the airline

SOL Lineas Aereas Saab 340A LV-CEI
one of seven operated by the carrier

Late breaking news is that BQB Lineas Aereas and SOL Lineas Aereas have been authorized by the Uruguayan and Argentine aviation authorities to operate 35 and 15 weekly frequencies, respectively, on the "Air Bridge" between Montevideo (MVD) and Buenos Aires Aeroparque (AEP) to cover for the loss of seats on the route caused by the shutdown of PLUNA which was operating several daily flights between the two capital cities with 90-seat CRJ-900's.  BQB operates two 72-seat ATR-72's and SOL operates seven 30-seat Saab 340's.      

Travel on these flights will be available for new ticket purchases only.  Passengers holding tickets on PLUNA will need to contact that carrier. 

Source:  El Pais Uruguay 06Jul12

PLUNA Shut Down "Indefinitely" by Uruguayan Government, Likely to Liquidate

Financial Problems & Decision to Shutdown

On Thursday 05Jul12, Uruguayan President Jose Mujica announced that the government would shut down the national carrier PLUNA "indefinitely" while other reports indicated that the carrier was being liquidated.  Either way, the cessation of operations was caused by a lack of liquidity to pay its bills and overall meager financial resources due to continued losses on operations.  The government was seeking private investors to replace the dissolved Leadgate/Jazz partnership but with no solid prospects on the horizon, losses mounting, and with the employees on strike for 48 hours earlier this week, the decision was made that the current financial situation made it "impossible to assure an adequate operation".  

Hints that President Mujica might shut down PLUNA came earlier this week when he said in an interview that "the president is not in favor of continuing to lose money".  A sale of the airline to private investors or shutdown of the carrier and sale of its assets, such as equity in its aircraft, were both being contemplated.

Employees Losing Jobs

PLUNA's 900 employees will lose their jobs but will collect unemployment insurance with many workers likely to be placed in other government jobs. Nonetheless, many workers broke down in tears and desperation at the prospect of being unemployed in a small country where good work opportunities are often hard to come by.

Passengers Stranded

July is the winter vacation period in Uruguay and it is estimated that 75,000 travelers would have traveled with PLUNA during that month alone but will now need to make alternative travel plans.

A New Airline ?

According to Transport Minister Enrique Pintado the priority now is to "reestablish the country's air transportation connectivity".  He and Economy Minister Fernando Lorenzo will introduce "a package of measures" on Monday 09Jul12 with that end in mind.  That same day, President Mujica will send proposed legislation to the Uruguayan congress establishing ground rules for negotiations with the airline's creditors.   Also on Monday, the Council of Ministers will consider a legislative bill that would generate an RFP (Request for Proposals) for private investors to enter in a partnership with the Uruguayan state to start another carrier to replace PLUNA.

Limited Measures Possible

Pintado indicated that the situation has changed since the 15Jun12 press conference where it was announced that the Leadgate/Jazz group was exiting PLUNA and that new investors were looking at putting money into the airline.  "No financing source, nor any party interested in capitalizing the carrier has appeared", he said.  He added that the state is limited in the actions that it can take in a company that it has a minority stake in and that is majority privately-owned.      

Fraud ?

While there are many commercial reasons for the airline's troubles, there have also been accusations, especially among opposition politicians, that Leadgate management stripped assets from the company through such actions as excessive consulting fees, the selling of PLUNA's office in Buenos Aires for US$ 1.2 million, a CRJ-900 engine for US$ 4.6 million, and aircraft spare parts for US$ 500,000.  

Editor's Opinion:   Limited Hub Connectivity

While the commercial reasons given for PLUNA's demise have been many:  High fuel prices, stagnating economies in South America, Argentine currency restrictions, and Uruguayan air traffic control inefficiencies, the most important reason in my opinion is the limited connectivity of PLUNA's Montevideo (MVD) hub due to route denials by the Argentine government. 

Route authorities were requested, but denied, to several destinations, including Bariloche (BRC), Mendoza (MDZ) and Trelew (REL).  Montevideo is strategically located between Argentina and Brazil.  PLUNA was flying to six different Brazilian cities at the time it shut down but needed a similar number of cities in Argentina to make its hub system of flights feeding each other work.  While the Argentine government's wish to protect its carriers Aerolineas Argentinas / Austral might be understandable, the damage done to the economies of Argentine cities that are denied air service probably far exceeds the benefits realized by the national carriers from being protected from competition.

Sources: El Pais Uruguay 05Jul12, 06Jul12
             http://airlineroute.net/2012/07/06/pu-jul12/
             http://ar.reuters.com/article/topNews/idARL2E8I5F2S20120705

Thursday, July 5, 2012

ROUTE UPDATES: Asuncion new service by American Airlines & COPA Going Daily

Though not strictly a news story on Argentine or Uruguayan commercial aviation, the editor has decided to include these items because they are significant news for Paraguay and of likely interest to readers of this blog.

American Airlines recently announced that it will resume flights from Miami (MIA) to Asuncion, Paraguay (ASU) in November 2012 after a 10-year absence.  Previously, the carrier operated the service via Sao Paulo (GRU) but it was discontinued over a disagreement with the Paraguayan government involving obligatory commission payments to travel agents. 

The new flights will be non-stop, four times per week, using 757's.  As an incentive to reintroduce service, the Paraguayan aviation authority is exempting American from paying taxes related to air traffic control, ground-handling and parking of aircraft for a period of two years.  Similar measures will be offered to other airlines as an incentive to start service to Paraguay.  The country currently has no direct flights to the U.S. so the new service will make Paraguay much more accessible helping attract both business and leisure travelers to a country which currently has a very small tourism industry. 

On a related note, COPA Airlines recently increased frequncy on the flights it started from Asuncion (ASU) to its Panama City (PTY) hub earlier this year from four times weekly to daily.  The airline uses 737-800's on the route.  Paraguay was previously the only country of "the Americas" that COPA was not connecting through its PTY hub.   

Sources: Aviacion News 14Jun12, 21Jun12

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

ROUTE UPDATE: Austral operated its first Buenos Aires Aeroparque (AEP) to Rio de Janeiro (GIG) Service on 01Jun12

Austral EMB-190 LV-CHR operated the carrier's first AEP to GIG service on 01Jun12. It is pictured above finishing its landing roll on runway 13 on 25May12, a foggy day at AEP.

As part of the expansion of Austral's service to regional international destinations outside of Argentina, the carrier flew its first Embraer 190 service from Buenos Aires Aeroparque (AEP) to Rio de Janeiro (GIG) on 01Jun12. The airline also flies from Buenos Aires' Ezeiza (EZE) airport to Rio de Janeiro (GIG).

Traditionally, Austral, sister airline to Aerolineas Argentinas, has only flown domestic services with a few exceptions such as flights to Montevideo, Uruguay (MVD) with NAMC YS-11 aircraft in the 1970's. The new GIG service joins Austral flights from Aeroparque to Sao Paulo (GRU) and both Aeroparque and Ezeiza to Montevideo (MVD) and Santiago (SCL).

Sources: Aviacion News 07Jun12
             www.aerolineas.com.ar

Photo: Phil Perry

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

PLUNA Cancels Flights for 48-Hours due to Employee Strike

PLUNA's administrative staff union announced a strike to begin tonight, July 3 at 21:20 Montevideo time lasting until Friday, July 6 at 12:00 hours.  The strike action is being taken to protest the proposed layoffs / redundancies of 200 staff as part of the negotiation with Juan Carlos Lopez Mena, owner of BQB Lineas Aereas, to purchase the 75% shareholding formerly held by the Jazz/Leadgate partnership.  

Other concerns include the lack of information from government officials on actions being taken to capitalize PLUNA.  The union is also said to be considering participating in the new capitalization of the carrier once Jazz's 30-day option to purchase the 75% shareholding expires on July 15.     

PLUNA's management decided to cancel all flights for 48 hours to avoid uncertainty and confusion among passengers regarding their flight status and have been asked to contact the carrier about flight possibilities on other airlines or to rebook travel for future dates.

Source: El Pais Uruguay 03Jul12

Monday, July 2, 2012

ROUTE UPDATES: Bariloche (BRC) Sharp Increase in Flights for Winter Ski Season

Bariloche Profile

Bariloche is a city of 108,000 people located on the shores of Lake Nahuel Huapi in the central western Patagonia region of Argentina near the Chilean border. It is a year-round tourist destination and the number one winter ski resort in Argentina in terms of number of skiiers taking advantage of the nearby Cerro Catedral mountain. Argentines and Brazilians are the main visitors but many Europeans and Americans visit Bariloche too.

Aerolineas Argentinas 737-700, LV-CBF, at AEP on 17Sep10

Aerolineas Argentinas / Austral  

Aerolineas Argentinas increased the number of flights it operated from Buenos Aires to Bariloche (BRC) in June to 35 weekly with 28 being from Aeroparque (AEP) and 7 from Ezeiza (EZE).  The carrier will further increase its flights between the two cities to 45 per week for the peak ski season of July and August.  Flights to Bariloche (BRC) will also be increased from Cordoba (COR), Argentina's second-largest city and Mendoza (MDZ) its fourth-largest metropolis.  Aerolineas will also operate thrice-weekly scheduled flights from Sao Paulo, Brazil (GRU) to Bariloche (BRC).    

       LAN Argentina A320, LV-BHU. landing at AEP on 03Oct10 

LAN Argentina

Starting in July, LAN Argentina will fly up to five daily flights from Buenos Aires Aeroparque (AEP) ro Bariloche (BRC) and nine daily flights on weekends using the carrier's Airbus A320 aircraft. 


 
TAM A320, PR-MBB, preparing for takeoff at AEP on 11Feb12

GOL 737-800, PR-GGA, at AEP on 11Feb12

TAM & GOL

Reflecting the strong Brazilian interest in skiing at Bariloche, the two main Brazilian airlines, TAM and GOL have been authorized by the Argentine National Civil Aviation Administration (ANAC by its Spanish initials) to operate 140 charters from Brazil to Bariloche (BRC) during July and August.  The originating airports will be Belo Horizonte (CNF), Porto Alegre (POA), Rio de Janeiro (GIG), and Sao Paulo (GRU) with the services being flown by GOL 737-700's and -800's plus TAM A320's (plus possibly TAM A330's as BRC's 2,348 meter / 7,703 ft. runway can probably handle them when they only carry enough fuel to fly to GIG, the furthest away of the aforementioned Brazilian airports). 

Sources:  Aviacion News 31May12, 07Jun12, 14Jun12
              http://www.airwaysim.com/forum/index.php?topic=6649.0
              Wikipedia

Photos: Phil Perry

Sunday, July 1, 2012

BQB's Owner Negotiating to Acquire Former Leadgate Shares in PLUNA

PLUNA CRJ-900 CX-CRA landing at AEP on 24Sep10

BQB Lineas Aereas owner Juan Carlos Lopez Mena is negotiating with the Uruguayan government to acquire the PLUNA shares formerly owned by the group headed by investment company Leadgate.  Mena would pay between US$ 60-63 million for 75% of the Uruguayan national airline subject to an audit of the carrier with the main purpose being to discover any long-term obligations that Leadgate might have committed to that are not readily apparent. 

Should the negotiations be successful, the new majority owner would downsize the airline reducing PLUNA's payroll by 200 jobs and returning 3-4 aircraft to Bombardier, their manufacturer.  The reductions and return of aircraft would be partly offset by BQB's proposed expansion that would see that airline acquiring two CRJ-200's and adding 80 jobs.    

Canadian commuter airline Jazz, that was a minority partner in the ownership group headed by Leadgate, has the right to make the first offer for the shares during a 30-day period (which expires July 15) but it has been disclosed that Jazz's only interest is to pursue a business plan to recover the US$ 15 million investment it made in PLUNA in 2010 but that was subsequently lost when the Jazz/Leadgate ownership group agreed to no compensation for their shares as part of the negotiation to exit the carrier.  Once Jazz has recovered its money, it would exit PLUNA again.  With the Canadian airline apparently having no long-term interest in PLUNA, it is unlikely that any offer it makes will be accepted by the Uruguayan government. 

Stay tuned to see how things develop in the fast-changing situation of PLUNA, Uruguay's national carrier.

Source:  El Pais Uruguay 30Jun12

Photo: Phil Perry