Nauru Airlines (ON, Nauru) has issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) to start the process of replacing its B737-300 passenger fleet over the next few years, nominating pre-owned B737-700s or B737-800s as its preferred choice.

This is the word from Chief Executive Officer Geoff Bowmaker, who told ch-aviation by email that internal evaluations have resulted in the choices for its RFP.

Asked if other aircraft types, such as the Airbus A320 family, Airbus Canada A220 or Embraer E-Jet family had been considered; what sort of loads were anticipated going forward; and if regional aircraft would not be a better option given the decline in travel demand following COVID-19, Bowmaker responded: “Suffice to say that our internal evaluations reviewed such matters.” He said the timing of the fleet renewal was appropriate to the airline’s fleet planning programme, despite the impacts of the pandemic.

As previously reported, the fleet renewal is to be financed through a long-term USD25 million loan secured by the Government of Nauru from the Taiwanese Export–Import Bank. The loan is to be repaid over 12 years. Taiwan has pledged an additional USD2.4 million to cover the repayment of the loan’s principal amount plus interest charges. Nauru is one of few countries in the world that recognises Taiwan.

Using the Nauru Airlines (Australia) (ON, Brisbane Int'l) AOC, Nauru Airlines' fleet entails two B737-300(F)s and three passenger B737-300s. Of the freighters, it recently took redelivery of B737-300 VH-ONU (msn 28732) after it underwent P2F conversion paid for with a AUD9.2 million Australian dollar (USD7.1 million) facility extended by the Nauru government. As passenger demand is expected to remain low in the coming months, the airline committed another B737-300 VH-YNU (msn 25607) for freight conversion in January 2021 with redelivery slated for May 2021, Bowmaker confirmed. "Our plan is to maintain two freighter aircraft in our fleet. The conversion of a second passenger aircraft will allow us to retire the older existing freighter aircraft VH-VLI (msn 27125)," he said.

According to Bowmaker, two freighters will allow the airline to seize more opportunities to participate in the current stronger freight growth sector whilst it navigates the COVID-19 period of reduced passenger demand. A second freighter will also allow the airline to secure longer-term freight contracts because it will have a back-up aircraft to ensure continuity of service. “The freight activity has grown in relation to freight RPT (regular public transport) flights as well as new opportunities in freight charter work, regionally and within Australia, as well,” he explained.

Addressing the impact of the pandemic on passenger flights, Bowmaker said the Brisbane Int'l-based airline’s route network had been reduced to fortnightly services to Nauru. “Our previous regional RPT network of flights to Nauru, Fiji, Kiribati, and the Marshall Islands has been significantly reduced to servicing Nauru only. On the positive side, however, there have been new charter opportunities such as repatriation flights, World Food Programme flights, and extra freighter flight opportunities.”

Bowmaker declined to comment on the airline’s financial situation or on whether it would need further financial assistance this year from the government in the light of reduced passenger services.

He confirmed the carrier had undergone cost-cutting measures, including retrenchments of staff. “We undertook, reluctantly but unfortunately necessary, a downsizing exercise effective July 2020. We currently sit with the people and processes to support our current business,” he said.