7E7 and Tu-154 figure in Aeroflot fleet expansion plans

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Aeroflot is chasing a range of options to beef up its capacity ahead of an across-the-board domestic expansion unveiled last week.

To meet high traffic targets under the summer schedule, the carrier has already acquired five Tupolev Tu-154Ms on the secondary market for a total of $20 million.

This partially makes up for the loss in seat capacity from phasing out 13 uneconomical Ilyushin Il-62 aircraft. A shortage remains of suitable regional jets to replace 11 ageing Tu-134s, largely employed on the domestic routes.

Aeroflot has signed letters of intent with Tupolev, Antonov and Sukhoi about taking their new-generation aircraft and intends to invite tenders from them for the supply of at least 50 units in two categories, one covering sub-90-seat capacity and the other 90-120 seats.

Sergei Kharitonov, director of strategic corporate development, expects firm contracts, stipulating deliveries by 2010, to be signed within the next few months.

But he suggests that none of those models could be available for business before 2007.

As a stopgap measure, Aeroflot is considering taking Western-built regional aircraft - ATR, Embraer or Bombardier - and seeking government permission to import them tax-free.

Chief executive Valery Okulov also reveals that Boeing has offered Aeroflot launch customer status for the planned 7E7.

"It looks very enticing because such a status grants certain discounts and allowances by the manufacturer," says Okulov, adding that talks with Boeing are scheduled for next month.