South African Airways has initiated a widebody tender process with Boeing and Airbus, outgoing chief executive Nico Bezuidenhout confirms.
He expects the carrier to place an order for "probably between 25 and 35 units" as soon as August.
"I may be optimistic, but time is of the essence here," he says, adding that interim leases could also be signed by year-end. "It is imperative for us to get the [Airbus] A340-600s phased out as soon as possible."
Bezuidenhout stepped down in June after jointly drafting a 20-year turnaround plan for the loss-making flag carrier. He has now returned to his post heading up SAA's low-cost subsidiary Mango, and been succeeded at the mainline carrier by Monwabisi Kalawe.
Rejecting reports that SAA has predetermined its preference for a mixture of A350s and 787s, Bezuidenhout says the airline has asked the manufacturers to draft proposals from scratch. "Nothing precludes either one of the two OEMs from providing a holistic solution, as opposed to a widebody solution only," he says.
Although Bezuidenhout does not rule out amending SAA's existing order for 20 A320 narrowbodies, he stresses that financing is already in place for the first 10 units.
With the flag carrier anxious to withdraw its A340s as soon as possible, the outgoing chief executive adds that parallel leasing deals may also be facilitated by the manufacturers.
"Some of the lessors' first available slots are only in 2017... To take your first delivery slot off the production line you're looking at 2020," he says. "We're looking at a holistic solution. If a particular OEM have got a particular relationship with an aircraft lessor that can give us an earlier slot, or can swap slots around, [that will be preferable]."
Whatever agreements are reached, he says the overriding priority will be securing a "very, very tight offer" in terms of price - something which analysts say the airline has failed to achieve in the past.
Flightglobal's Ascend Online database lists SAA's current fleet as comprising 18 A340s, six A330s, two A320s, 11 A319s, 13 737-800s and three 737 Classics.