American emphasises flexibility in A319 and A321 order

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American Airlines is emphasising the flexibility to switch between variants in its order for 130 Airbus A319s and A321s, as its proposed merger with US Airways nears.

"There's a lot of flexibility in this deal," says Tom Horton, chairman and chief executive of the Fort Worth, Texas-based carrier, at the delivery of its first A319 in Hamburg on 23 July. "The plan will evolve as we build the new airline."

His comments mark a shift in American's stance on the order to emphasise flexibility in the final numbers of each variant where it previously simply declined to comment.

As recently as April, International Aero Engines (IAE) told Flightglobal that the airline had ordered 65 of each variant. The engine manufacturer will supply engines for American's A321s.

The shift comes as American nears the anticipated late third quarter close of its proposed merger with US Airways, which will see the majority of senior executive roles held by executives from the Tempe, Arizona-based carrier.

US Airways is the world's largest A320 family operator with 93 A319s, 72 A320s and 85 A321s in its fleet, according to Flightglobal's Ascend Online database. It has shown a preference for the largest variant in recent years, taking delivery of 34 since 2010 and using them to replace smaller aircraft.

The airline took delivery of its last A320 in 2010 and last A319 in 2006, Ascend shows.

American and US Airways management cannot make joint business decisions, including orders or deliveries, until they receive antitrust approval from the US Department of Justice (DOJ).

Horton says that US Airways is "well down the track with fleet modernisation", with its programme to replace older Boeing 737s with Airbus aircraft.

US Airways plans to have only 14 737-400s in its fleet at the end of the year, down from 32 in December 2012. It retired the last of its 737-300s last year.

"Nothing like a younger fleet invigorates an airline," says Horton.