Max Kingsley-Jones/LONDON

Aer Lingus has decided to switch from Boeing to Airbus for the next additions to its short- haul fleet, with a deal for four Airbus A321-200s to be delivered from 1998, primarily to replace Boeing 737-400s on the busy London-Dublin route.

The airline, which has been a major 737 customer, having operated the -200 through to -500 variants, had been targeted by Boeing as a potential launch customer for its planned A321 rival, the stretched 180-seat 737-900X (Flight International 7-13 May, P4).

The Aer Lingus decision will be a blow to the US manufacturer, as earlier this year another established 737 operator, British Midland, switched to the Airbus A320/A321. Boeing president Ron Woodard said at the Paris air show in June that if the -900X had been available then, it would have won the British Midland order.

Aer Lingus says that it looked at the 737-900, but that the Airbus alternative was "the right aircraft, at the right price". The Irish airline adds that "-it is a very competitive marketplace at the moment".

The first two A321s are expected to enter service in May 1998, on medium-term leases from International Lease Finance (ILFC), with options to extend. The second two aircraft, which will be acquired directly from Airbus, will follow a year later.

The four aircraft will seat 168 passengers in a two-class layout, or up to 194 in a one-class configuration. Aer Lingus has selected the CFM International CFM56-5B3 powerplant.

Aer Lingus now operates ten 737-500s and eight -400s, and says that when it introduces the Airbuses, it will "rejig the fleet", returning two 737-500s to ILFC when their leases expire in 1998. The airline already flies five Airbus A330-300s, and although the widebodies share cockpit commonality with the A321s, a decision has not been taken whether flightcrews will be cross-qualified.

Source: Flight International