Irish newcomer looks to double fleet of Embraers

 - October 8, 2007, 11:05 AM

New Irish regional airline Jetmagic hopes to double its fleet by the end of this month by adding another pair of Embraer jets to its existing complement of two ERJ-145s leased from Swiss International Air Lines. Along with adding capacity, the airline’s plans for at least one 37-seat ERJ-135 will allow it to fly from its Cork base to London City Airport, where steep approach requirements disqualify the 50-seat ERJ-145.

Jetmagic opened services in April, but until the new airline secured an Irish air operator’s certificate in late May it had to rely on Swiss for wet-lease capacity. Since then Jetmagic signed a “medium-term” dry-lease deal for the airplanes, which Swiss had already registered in Ireland because JAA regulations do not apply in Switzerland. Jetmagic chief executive Patrick Raftery said the contract runs for less than five years.

On September 2 Jetmagic directors formally agreed to enlarge the fleet, although the airline did not yet know whether suppliers could immediately satisfy its preference for one each of Embraer’s 37-seat and 50-seat jet types. Ahead of a final decision, Jetmagic reserved Irish registrations for two undelivered ERJ-135ERs previously earmarked for Moroccan operator Regional Air Lines Maroc. Raftery said original plans involved an all-ERJ-145 fleet, but while some routes required the ERJ-145’s higher capacity, others did not, prompting the decision to diversify into ERJ-135s. The airline plans to use the smaller aircraft on Cork-Belfast services, as well as to London City.

Jetmagic has announced services to 13 destinations: Brussels (Belgium); Jersey (Channel Islands); Nantes, Nice and Paris (France); Milan and Rome (Italy); Belfast City (Northern Ireland); Alicante and Barcelona (Spain); and Edinburgh, Liverpool and London City (UK). It began services on all but the last four before September.

Early this month the ERJ-135 continued certification trials for JAA approval at London City. Jetmagic said the airplane requires modification of the ground-proximity warning and FADEC systems, while crews would need steep-approach training and amended licenses. London City could eventually become a Jetmagic hub, but Raftery ruled out the possibility in the short term because of crew-basing costs, among other factors.

He said some routes have proved immediately popular, claiming some passenger load factors of more than 90 percent. The airline first doubled its single round trip to Nice, then increased the service to five a week, while flights to Barcelona have grown from two to three. Alicante, Milan and Rome will all increase from once or twice to three-times-weekly destinations.

Despite its relatively fast start, Jetmagic’s early success has not come easy. While awaiting formal Irish approval, the start-up used a variety of aircraft, including business jets, to provide initial capacity or while the Swiss aircraft underwent maintenance. For example, a Cimber Air Canadair CRJ200, a Westair BAe 125-700, a Eurojet Cessna Citation Excel and a Hex’ Air ERJ-135LR had all performed supplemental lift for Jetmagic in late May; the CRJ200 has also provided subsequent maintenance cover, reflecting the high utilization of Jetmagic’s ERJ-145s (up to 14 hours per day).

As with similar start-up operations, Jetmagic confirms the assistance available from airport operators eager to attract business. Raftery reported “expressions of interest” from several airports in addition to “welcome and significant” support from Irish airports operator Aer Rianta at Cork. He declined to reveal details, but Aer Rianta offers generous landing-fee discounts of up to 100 percent in the first year (decreasing in even steps to zero percent after five years) for minimum three-times-weekly services to destinations not already served from Cork, Dublin or Shannon, along with contributions toward airline marketing costs. Jetmagic also receives unquantified support from destination airports.

For training, Jetmagic has initially used capacity at FlightSafety in Paris, but Raftery said the Irish airline expects to gain approval as a type-rating training organization by around the turn of the year. Jetmagic currently employs 84 people, including some 30 flight crew and 18 cabin staff.