Max Kingsley-Jones/LONDON

Aer Lingus has taken a step closer to operating an all-Airbus fleet with its decision to order six A320s to add to its orders for the larger A321 and its fleet of five A330s. The new aircraft will result in its Boeing 737 fleet being further reduced.

The airline revealed the move as it took delivery of the first of three CFM International CFM56-5B-powered A321-200s which are being taken on seven-year operating leases from International Lease Finance. A further three A321s, ordered directly from Airbus, will be delivered in 1999.

Aer Lingus also confirms the order placed in February for a single General Electric CF6-80E1A4-powered A330-200 for delivery in 1999.

The carrier has long been an operator of the 737, and has in service six 737-400s and nine smaller -500s. The new A321s are being used to boost capacity on high density routes to London.

Aer Lingus chairman Bernie Cahill says that the airline is targeting 15% growth for the route next year. The A321s will replace 737-400s, which are in turn being redeployed on to the 737-500 routes serving continental Europe. Disposal of all but two of the 737-500s is expected.

The 737-400s will in turn be deployed on continental European routes in place of smaller 737-500s, and the -500 fleet is likely to be reduced by up to four aircraft over the next 18 months, according to the airline.

The -400s are due to be replaced by A320s as the new aircraft are delivered between early 2000 and 2002, while the future of the remaining -500s has not yet been determined. "It will depend on the market conditions. We want to keep our fleet plans flexible," says the Irish carrier.

Meanwhile, the airline's Spanish charter airline associate, Futura, will sublease two Aer Lingus 737-400s to operate during its 1998 summer season.

Source: Flight International