Alliance Airlines will take delivery of the first of 14 Embraer E190 jets next month, and is considering an all-business class version alongside dual-cabin and all-economy layouts.
For the Brisbane-based carrier, it’s all about offering flexibility and variety within the fleet.
Alliance bucked a ‘shrink to survive’ trend among airlines the world over by purchasing 14 of the popular regional E190 jets previously flow by Panama’s Copa Airlines from US-based Azorra Aviation as part of a $112m package, with the option to collect the keys to five more E190s.
All 14 E190s are due in the hangars by mid-2021, and will be the largest local footprint for the compact twin-engine jet since Virgin Australia pensioned off its E190s across 2016-2018.
Copa configured its E190s with 10-12 business class seats and 84-88 seats in economy, and Alliance Airlines CEO Lee Schofield tells Executive Traveller that a number of “slightly different configurations” could end up taking wing.
“I could see that we could have business class,” Schofield says. “Our bread and butter is single class economy (but) we’ll have the ability to change our cabins… included in the transaction was a significant component of step-ups including cabin interiors and spare parts.”
“We’ll have the flexibility to operate the aircraft either in that dual-class cabin or in single class with 100 seats.”
“We are have a Fokker 70 running around in all business class, with 48 seats; we have another Fokker 70 in a 24-seat VIP configuration. So we do like to have a bit of variability in the cabin configuration, and also we like to have the ability to change the interior configuration even while we are in service.”
Regardless of how Alliance’s E-jets are configured, Schofield expects they’ll be welcomed by the airline’s wide array of passengers, which spans from the resources market to holidaymakers – Alliance recently picked up a state government subsidy for flights between Brisbane and the Whitsundays – and private charter flights.
“The E190 is an exceptional aircraft from the passenger comfort point of view. You can fit up to 114 seats in these things, so even in an all-economy 100 seat layout, that's a pretty generous passenger experience.”
No middle seat
And unlike the larger Boeing 737s which are the workhorse of Qantas and Virgin Australia, even economy seating will be just two seats either side of the aisle, so there’s no dreaded middle seat.
“We already see that in the Fokker aircraft, having only five abreast,” Schofield recounts. “Only 20% of the cabin has a middle seat, so you have to have over an 80% passenger load before you use the middle seats.”
“That's always been received very well by our passengers, and the E190 has the added advantage of no middle seats.”
However, Alliance’s E190s won’t be rushing into the skies as soon as they are delivered. Despite the first being due in September “and then basically one every 21 days thereafter” Schofield says, “the expectation is that the first E190s won't go into service until February 2021.”
“The current view is that we have a need for around four E190s upfront. Outside of that we’ll see where the opportunities are, and either bring them in quickly, or in a more gradual fashion” based on demand.
“Most other airlines look at what their demand’s going to be, and then place forward orders for the exact number. We always like to buy in bulk and then have aircraft available for down the track.”
“But during the course of the 2021 financial year is when we'd expect to bring most, if not all of them in.”
As to where the E190s will fly, that’s also being determined. “We're infinitely flexible as to where they end up,” Schofield says.
Alliance has a partnership with Virgin Australia for flights within regional Queensland “so there's an opportunity to deploy some of the aircraft there,” in addition to “incremental work” alongside the 42-strong Fokker fleet on Alliance’s own services.
“Down the track in a number of years, we don't know how many years, they will become the replacement aircraft” Schofield says. “We will need to replace our Fokkers at a point in time, clearly, but that's not now.”