Denim Air expanding fleet, considers first regional jets

 - December 8, 2006, 6:13 AM

Dutch operator Denim Air, which claims to be Europe’s leading regional airline aircraft, crew, maintenance and insurance (ACMI) service provider, is expanding its twin-turboprop fleet and considering adding small jetliners to meet increased demand for wet-lease capacity, including requirements outside the region. The company has also secured a number of new or renewed contracts.  

“Supporting Europe’s regional airlines has always been our core activity, but we are finding increased interest from organizations for non-scheduled [work],” according to chief executive Matthijs Boertien. “As the [European] market stabilizes and the need for last-minute wet-lease [capacity] diminishes, we are exploring new regions, such as Africa and the Middle East.” 
A year after it received five Fokker 50s from sister company Denim Airways, which had ceased scheduled service, Denim Air now operates 11 such aircraft. It also flies a growing fleet of Bombardier Q300s. “The fleet is changing every day,” Boertien told AIN.

Confirming a continuing resurgence in demand for turboprop capacity, the company has noted a change of market accent: older aircraft such as Fokker 50s are finding homes farther away from Europe. For example, one Denim Air machine supports the Norwegian Defence Logistics Operations in Afghanistan.

A second example represents another break from the company’s traditional business: Denim Air recently completed two months’ flying with a Fokker 50 and crew for the World Food Program in Congo (Africa) and has been contracted for at least another month.

After considering types such as the Fokker 100 and British Aerospace Regional Aircraft Avro RJ70 and RJ100, Denim Air has selected a regional jet, the identity of which it has not revealed. Boertien said there is no ready ACMI market for smaller 50-passenger RJs, but he does not exclude future possibilities “if the numbers are right.”

Denim Air expects to need about six RJs but could start operations with four. Boertien is happy for Denim Air to accept the risk of ownership for up to three years but said, “It must be done right and we must be convinced of the long-term prospects.”

Beyond its home area, Denim Air has been “fishing” for business in the Middle East’s Gulf region and India. In North Africa the company recently began indefinite Libyan lease operations for Veba Oil using a Dutch-registered Dash 8-300. The aircraft works jointly with Samco, which will perform maintenance. Denim captains will fly alongside Veba-employed Libyan first officers and cabin crew.

Spanish Connection
Within Europe, Denim Air now operates five Q300s for Spain’s Air Nostrum (replacing five earlier Fokker 50s) but is absorbing six of Air Nostrum’s Spanish-registered Q300s under a new five-year leaseback/ACMI deal. To support the activity, Denim Air hired 30 more Dash 8 flight crew and will establish a support team in Valencia to assist Air Nostrum planning, scheduling and operations.

Boertien said the arrangement provides Air Nostrum with flexibility, while giving Denim Air spare capacity; for example, during the upcoming European winter two of the aircraft will be operated for third parties. Boertien expects “a lot of interest” in the Dash 8s, all of which are less than five years old.

Under another new European contract, Dutch regional VLM Airlines (a sister company in the Panta Holdings group) has taken on four Denim Air Fokker 50s for an initial 12-month term. Two are based at Rotterdam Airport and two at Amsterdam Schiphol, bolstering VLM Airlines’ operational fleet to 19 of the type. The deal enables VLM to increase its route network and service frequency.

Last month Denim Air started managing all VLM Schiphol operations from a new office in the Amsterdam World Trade Centre, which also now serves as a duty station for pilots flying to remote locations.

Indeed, the requirement to base flight crews at out-stations has led Denim Air to move its headquarters from Eindhoven to Amsterdam. Its Dash 8 crews assigned to Air Nostrum will operate from Valencia, Barcelona and Palma (Mallorca) starting in January. With other crews being based in Africa and expected to fly elsewhere, Boertien said a more centrally located office would ease international communications, as well as reducing crew travel costs.