Tuesday, October 9, 2012

New Uruguayan Airline to use Six Leased ex-PLUNA CRJ-900's ?

With the sale at auction of the seven company-owned ex-PLUNA CRJ-900's the focus is now turning towards what to do with the six leased ex-PLUNA CRJ-900's.  

When PLUNA shut down indefinitely on July 6, some 900 workers lost their jobs.  Of special concern to the Uruguayan government were the 700 employees based in Uruguay who were thrown out of work.  One of the goals of the auction of the company-owned planes was for the buyer to use them to fly routes out of Montevideo employing at least 250 of these workers.

Cosmo / BQB a Possible Partial Solution

These hopes were put on hold with the purchase of the aircraft by Cosmo Airlines of Spain who indicated that they would use them for expansion of charters into Central and Eastern Europe. There might still be a chance for many of these workers to find jobs with BQB Lineas Aereas of Uruguay as this airline is reportedly negotiating with Cosmo to lease some of the former PLUNA planes.

New Airline with Air Nostrum

However, the workers are more optimistic of future employment with a new airline that would be formed using the six leased ex-PLUNA CRJ-900's.  They have talked with five interested parties, but the most promising possibility is Air Nostrum, a Spanish regional airline that operates a large fleet of aircraft consisting mostly of the same Bombardier CRJ series planes formerly operated by PLUNA, including CRJ-200's, -900's, and the latest model, the -1000.    

Cesar Iroldi, president of the PLUNA workers' union, led a meeting of former PLUNA employees with Uruguayan president Jose Mujica on Friday, October 5.  They presented the project as it has been developed so far with Air Nostrum with further details to be defined this week.  The Spanish airline and the former PLUNA employees would co-manage the new carrier taking on more than 250 workers, and possibly as many as 500.  Iroldi remarked that "You have the trained human resources, the frequencies, the routes, and eventually the planes" to make a new airline viable.      
Prospect of Lease Termination Penalties 

The Uruguayan government also has incentives to start a new airline in that it also wants to see the employees back at work plus the government would face penalties of up to US$ 150 million should it cancel the lease contracts on the six CRJ-900's early.  The option of forming a new airline, possibly even a new Uruguayan national airline, sort of a "PLUNA 2" has widespread appeal.  
Sources:  El Observador and El Pais Uruguay, several articles from 02-06Oct12.

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