With the departure of its flight AR1326 at 11:05 p.m. last August, Argentina’s main carrier Aerolineas Argentinas started operating a second route to Punta Cana, one of Dominican Republic’s most demanded tourist destinations. The route demonstrates the capabilities of the newest addition to the carrier’s fleet: the Boeing 737 MAX 8.
The aircraft serving this first flight was LV-HKW, the last of the first five 737 MAX 8s received by the operator, first of the type in Central and South America. It will have a weekly frequency and is the newest addition to the route offering of the Cordoba hub.
Inaugurated last year, it has proven to be a fantastic decision for the company to simplify transfers and to alleviate its main hub in Buenos Aires. Today, more than 45 percent of the domestic passengers the airline carries will connect via Cordoba, and an important increase of international connections has been experienced since the hub opening.
American Airlines will test by itself the capabilities of the new route when, by the end of the year, the route from Cordoba to Miami is finally open. Also, several other carriers are evaluating the Ambrosio Taravella international airport to expand their offering.
In this inaugural flight, the aircraft interior was decorated with a special message in the headrest. The flight had 154 passengers on board out of 170 seats available, for a load factor just above 90 percent. It is indeed a good start, as the demand for the destination is expected to increase in the upcoming months when the southern hemisphere enters the summer holiday period.
The 737 MAX 8 adds this extended range capacity in a critical period for Aerolíneas’ long-haul business: the widebody fleet has reached their maximum, and while a decision for the replacement of two aged A340 is made, the possibility to program the MAX offers a bit of relief for the shorter long distance routes.
As negotiations are ongoing, the chance for an entire long-haul fleet renovation is scarce, as sources indicate that the company is looking for just two aircraft for the replacement in order to continue flying current routes. A long-term decision about the widebody fleet is still pending, with a possible date of 2021 appearing on the horizon.
Aerolineas Argentina’s 737 MAX will keep the 8 Business Class seats (Club Economy) and 162 Economy seats, as the rest of the 737NG fleet is undergoing an interior overhaul to accommodate 186 economy seats in a single-class layout. Equipped with onboard Wi-Fi, no external connectivity, though, and no IFE, the 7-hour trip is a challenge for the Argentinian traditional international passenger, who expects the amplitude of a widebody but struggles to adapt to an industry that has sacrificed comfort for competitiveness.
Nevertheless, the superb noise reduction of the MAX will make the trip easy on the ear. And, due to the reduced operating costs that will allow the carrier to offer competitive prices, it is easy on the wallet as well.
Technology and systems expert, occasional spotter, not-so-dynamic midfielder, blogger, husband, father of three cats; he believes that Latin America's aviation industry past, present, and future offer a lot of stories to be told.
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