Newly formed International Airlines Group (IAG) - parent of British Airways and Iberia - is making the replacement of the Spanish carrier's Airbus A340s a priority ahead of a broader long-haul fleet-renewal exercise that will also encompass the needs of BA.
IAG chief executive Willie Walsh says that there is the opportunity to replace Iberia's A340s with more efficient aircraft that are already available, ahead of the introduction of new-generation types that are being evaluated for the wider requirement.
Both airlines have been looking at fleet renewal and growth options for their long-haul aircraft, and Walsh says that this will be co-ordinated by IAG, making use of its stronger buying power resulting from the merger. "The two airlines were always relevant to Airbus, Boeing and the engine manufacturers, but we've become much more relevant through the merger," he says.
Between them BA and Iberia operate more than 160 widebodies, but there is no commonality between the two fleets. Iberia has 36 A340s (19 -300s and 17 -600s) while BA flies a mix of 127 Boeings - 57 747-400s (including seven parked), 21 767-300ERs and 49 777s (46 -200/200ERs and three -300ERs). Iberia's A340-300s are between nine and 19 years old, whereas the -600s are relatively young, having been delivered between 2003 and 2010.
Walsh told Air Transport Intelligence sister publication Airline Business that the Spanish arm's needs would be addressed first: "In the short term our focus will be on the Iberia fleet-replacement programme, because there's a clear opportunity with existing aircraft to get significant cost savings, particularly with oil heading towards $100 a barrel," he said.
"There are discussions going on with Airbus and Boeing. With Iberia we have the option of a transitional fleet arrangement while waiting for the new-generation aircraft - 787s or A350s."
BA finalised the first part of its long-haul fleet replacement plan in 2007, ordering 24 Boeing 787s and 12 Airbus A380s to replace its 767-300ERs and part of its 747-400 fleet, respectively. At that time it deferred its selection of a "big twin" 300- to 350-seat widebody to allow Airbus and Boeing to better define their offerings.
This requirement could now extend to cover Iberia's longer-term needs beyond the more pressing need for a "transitional" fleet deal. As well as the A350 and 787, IAG is also known to be interested in potential developments of the 777.