Julian Moxon/PARIS

Air France expects to decide between the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 families to replace its 737-200s by the end of June. A deal for up to 30 aircraft is expected.

According to fleet planning director Pierre Vellay, the airline is undertaking a five-year, Fr40 billion ($6.6 billion) fleet development programme to renew the medium and long range fleets.

The selection of a new medium range aircraft to replace 19 ageing 737-200s will be taken "before the end of June", says Vellay.

Around half of the 30 new aircraft will be leased, he says, while the rest will be purchased. "The delivery situation on new medium range aircraft is critical," says Vellay. "We had no choice but to lease - which also gives us the flexibility to adjust to the market."

In the meantime, the airline has just introduced the first of three 737-300s leased from GE Capital Aviation Services.

Vellay says that at the moment only Boeing can meet the potential requirement for some of the aircraft to be 110-seaters, which, if confirmed, would be met with leased 737-500s. "We are aware of Airbus' thoughts about a smaller version of the A319, but even if it was launched it would not be available until 2003, which is too late."

Air France, which already operates 737-500s, has "no interest" in either the Boeing 717 or the Next Generation 737-600, he says.

The average seating capacity of the medium range fleet to be ordered is 150. Larger aircraft are required because of the slot limitations and noise rules at Paris Orly. Smaller aircraft are needed at the developing Charles de Gaulle hub, where frequencies are higher.

Meanwhile, Air France will receive its first 777-200IGW at the end of March, with deliveries of all 12 aircraft continuing through to April 2002. Vellay says that the carrier is also considering firming up two Boeing 777-200IGW options to add to the 10 aircraft it already has on order. The new purchase would leave Air France with eight more options.

Air France is a member of the working group involved in defining the 480-650-seat Airbus Industrie A3XX. Vellay says that the airline will need "-between six and 10 aircraft-but we still have nowhere in the airport to put it".

Source: Flight International