Lao Airlines cancels twin Comac ARJ21 order

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Laos' flag carrier Lao Airlines has cancelled its order for two Comac ARJ21 aircraft, citing its receipt of two Airbus A320s originally destined for Libya.

"We cancelled the ARJ21 order owing to the Airbus offer," said Alain Walter, the carrier's general manager of sales and marketing. He was speaking at the sidelines of the World Connect 2011 conference organised by APG Global Associates in Singapore.

Walter declined to comment further on the ARJ21 cancellation. Although there is no official confirmation, sources have said the ARJ21 is falling behind on its test schedule, which could jeopardise Comac's objective of achieving type certification for the aircraft by the end of 2011.

The Lao government agreed to purchase the two ARJ21s at a ceremony in Vientiane in January 2010. Lao Airlines was the first export customer for the ARJ21, and the cancellation will come as a blow for the troubled programme.

Lao Airlines had been on a waiting list for two A320s, but Airbus contacted Lao Airlines about moving the acquisition forward when civil war broke out in Libya earlier this year.

"The Airbus offer was a great opportunity for us," said Walter. "[The planes] are extremely well equipped, with LED lighting and a seat-back in-flight entertainment system."

The aircraft have 16 business class seats and 126 economy class seats.

He added that the two aircraft were not originally destined for Libyan carrier Afriqiyah Airways, but a new start-up airline planned by deposed Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

The A320s will be Lao Airlines' first jet aircraft. The first will arrive in Vientiane on Saturday, 5 November, and the second in early January 2012.

Lao Airlines is planning to use its A320s on regional routes from Vientiane, such as a twice-daily service to Bangkok, and daily services to Hanoi and Kunming. On 24 November, the carrier will launch a three-times weekly A320 service to Singapore.

The airline is also looking at using the aircraft on charter flights to either the Tokyo Narita or Seoul Incheon airport. The carrier is looking at the costs involved with such flights.

Walter added that the eastern headwinds could be an issue with the Tokyo service. Lao Airlines will reach a decision on these charter possibilities soon.

The carrier also operates four ATR-72 500s and four Comac MA-60s. It has two additional MA-60s on order. Walter said the airline has no plans for additional aircraft at the time being.