Air France aims to conclude A350 deal next year

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Air France-KLM expects to finalise its Airbus A350 order during the first half 2013.

The Franco-Dutch group revealed plans to order up to 60 A350s in September 2011. But the deal has yet to be firmed owing to a lack of clarity over provision of engine aftermarket support for the Rolls-Royce Trent XWB-powered twinjets.

Air France-KLM wants to support the engine at its in-house MRO facilities, Air France Industries KLM Engineering & Maintenance, while Rolls-Royce aims to retain aftermarket services as part of its equipment sales.

Alexandre de Juniac, Air France's chairman and chief executive, says that the first half of 2013 is a "reasonable" target for an agreement with Airbus and Rolls-Royce, with the first aircraft due to be delivered in 2017.

It is not clear how AFI KLM E&M can establish Trent XWB overhaul capability, but Franck Terner, AFI's president, is adamant that the MRO provider will support the engine type in future.

Terner says the MRO provider "will not avoid any scheme" for an engine maintenance plant despite its proximity to the Rolls-Royce N3 overhaul facility in Germany, adding that AFI KLM E&M "will be present" in the market for Trent XWB MRO.

De Juniac indicates that a partnership with Rolls-Royce is likely. Compared with other engine manufacturers, he says, the UK supplier tends to provide its aftermarket support through partnership shops rather than in-house facilities.

N3 Engine Overhaul Services is a 50:50 joint venture with Lufthansa Technik. It was opened in 2007 to support Trent 500, 700 and 900 engines.

Concluding the A350 agreement is likely to facilitate Air France-KLM's engine choice for the Boeing 787. The airline group placed 25 firm and 25 options for 787-9s in January 2012, which are to be delivered from 2016. The 787 can be powered by either Trent 1000 or General Electric GEnx-1B engines.

Air France-KLM, a long-standing customer of GE, has said in the past that it would establish MRO capabilities for both GEnx and Trent XWB engines, if necessary.