Monarch seeks new-technology aircraft with 45-unit RFP

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UK leisure carrier Monarch Airlines has invited manufacturers to submit proposals for re-equipping its fleet as it looks to transition to a two-type operation.

The company is seeking a total of 45 aircraft, to cover replacements and fleet expansion, with deliveries starting in 2016 running until 2021.

Monarch operates 36 widebody and narrowbody aircraft and will mainly seek new aircraft as replacements for its Airbus A320/A321 and Boeing 757 fleets.

Executive chairman Iain Rawlinson tells Flightglobal the emphasis is on the narrowbody fleet as Monarch continues to expand its short-haul presence. The carrier has already taken over some former-BMIbaby routes at Birmingham and East Midlands airports, and will open a new base at Leeds Bradford airport in northern England in summer 2013.

"This order will reinforce our short- and medium-haul network plans in the future. Our priority is the short-haul fleet and the strategy is to get new aircraft as replacements, although it will allow modest growth," he says.

Rawlinson concedes Monarch is interested in Airbus's A320neo as well as the Boeing 737 Max. "Monarch wants to get access to new-technology aircraft, but the sharklet-equipped models will be more successful than people thought," he says.

Group financial director Robert Palmer adds: "This is a substantial decision to take and not only Airbus and Boeing are in the frame. We have developments elsewhere which might be of interest."

The widebody component of the request for proposal (RFP) will be centred on an A330 equivalent, according to Rowlinson.

During 2012, Monarch struck a total of nine Airbus sale and leaseback transactions to beef up its cash position.

The carrier sold two A330-200s to Guggenheim Aviation Partners for a period of seven years, plus two A321s to Jackson Square Aviation. Four A300-600Rs and one A320 that are coming to the end of their lives will also be leaving the fleet in the near term.

Monarch is exploring a similar transaction for its remaining two 757s. Palmer says both aircraft - initially financed under Japanese operating leases - were recently brought onto the group's balance sheet and could exit in the short- to medium-term.

A decision on the new fleet could be finalised towards the end of next year. In the interim period, the carrier plans to phase in four new Airbus narrowbody aircraft in the first half of 2013 as 'bridge aircraft'.

Monarch will take delivery of two new A320s in March and April 2013 and a further two new A321s in May under five-to-seven-year operating leases, adds Palmer.