FARNBOROUGH: Thomson 787s could go to sister carriers

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Tour giant TUI Travel is evaluating the placement of the five remaining Boeing 787-8s it has on firm order, with its Nordic and Benelux operations topping the list.

TUI Travel is taking 13 General Electric GEnx-powered 787s in total, eight of which are being taken by UK leisure carrier Thomson Airways as a replacement for its Boeing 767 fleet. It has purchase rights on a further 13.

Speaking to ATI at the Farnborough Air Show, Thomson Airways managing director Chris Browne said that the remaining five aircraft will "probably go to the Nordic countries and Benelux". She names TUIfly Nordic, Arkefly and Jetairfly as likely operators of the five aircraft, which are due to arrive from 2014 onwards.

Thomson will become the UK launch operator of the 787 when it takes its first aircraft in January 2012. It is vying with Polish airline LOT to become European launch operator.

Browne says it will trial the type on "safe" established routes, such as Florida and Canada, before sending it out to new destinations. Although not finalised, Cambodia, Costa Rica, Borneo, Brazil, Hawaii, Vietnam and South Africa are under evaluation and the final selection will be made by next summer.

The type is likely to make its debut flying out of Gatwick or Manchester in the UK, which Browne says are the airline's "most important departure airports". But she adds that the final selection will depend on customer demand. Thomson Airways also has sizeable operations at Glasgow, Birmingham, East Midlands and Bristol.

Thomson Airways has already invested £4 million ($6 million) and 150,000 man-hours on the entry into service project and it is refining its processes in preparation for the first arrival.

"We want to make sure that we understand the aircraft. It is so advanced, we want to make sure operate as effectively as can. Why buy a Rolls-Royce, only to operate it as a Mini?" says Browne.

"The biggest challenge is to make sure we modify our business to take advantage of it. The aircraft is smarter than we are."

The eight 787s which are allocated to Thomson are all due to arrive by early 2014. Thomson Airways head of technical and training captain Stuart Gruber is part of the European Aviation Safety Agency certification team. Browne says he became the first pilot in Europe to fly the 787 three weeks ago.