New twinjet selected over rival Airbus proposal in crucial fleet contest, shoring up Boeing's US customer base

Northwest Airlines is poised to announce its selection of the Boeing 787 over the competing Airbus A350 in a crucially strategic fleet re-equipment battle that could have knock-on effects for both manufacturers, say sources familiar with the carrier's evaluation.

The deal, if confirmed, is thought to cover around 15 to 18 aircraft, and comes as Boeing looks to shore up its US customer base and extend its order backlog before full-scale development ramps up next year.

Boeing declines to comment on the selection, and Northwest says: "We don't talk about fleet issues. Anything more will be said when we make the purchase."

Airbus had been optimistic of a breakthrough at Northwest with the A350 since last year when the airline firmed up options for additional A330-200/300s. The carrier has 15 A330-200/300s in service, and a similar number of new Airbus twinjets due for delivery between now and 2007. Airbus hoped the high degree of cockpit and systems commonality would provide a better incentive to Northwest, which took a $99 million "impairment charge" in December 2004 in conjunction with "a new aircraft order and the early retirement of certain DC-10-30 aircraft".

Northwest is thought to be most interested in the 787-8 version as a replacement for up to 20 DC-10s. The aircraft are likely to be most prominent in its transpacific market where Northwest maintains a large presence with valuable fifth-freedom rights beyond Japan. It also enjoys unlimited rights between the USA and Japan.

The Northwest decision could have implications for at least two other impending fleet decisions where the A350 and 787 are against each other, at Singapore Airlines and Qatar Airways. A win at the latter could be particularly key, given the airline's requirement for up to 60 aircraft, and its strong interest in the stretched 260-seat 787-9 variant (Flight International, 25-31 January).

The Northwest decision is also believed to represent a significant win for General Electric with the GEnx powerplant over Rolls-Royce's Trent 1000. GE and R-R decline to comment.


Source: Flight International