Air Ukraine expects to introduce the first of at least five Western-built airliners later this year as it seeks to replace its fleet of ageing Soviet-built aircraft.

According to Sergey Goncharenko, corporate secretary of the Kiev-based airline, contracts are expected to be concluded soon with Airbus Industrie and Boeing which will lead to the introduction of three Airbus A320s and two Boeing 767-200ERs this year on interim leases, to be replaced within two years by firmly ordered aircraft.

"We requested tenders for the purchase of the aircraft and our selection of A320s and 767s was declared on 5 May," explains Goncharenko. He acknowledges, however, that final negotiations have yet to be completed.

The original prices proposed by the manufacturers were "high", says Goncharenko, but a tendering process resulted in more-competitive pricing. He adds that Airbus and Boeing could not deliver new aircraft until 1999 and 1998, respectively, and so the airline requested that the two manufacturers source a similar number and type of aircraft for lease in the interim. A decision on expanding the fleet will be taken once the airline has built up operating experience.

Air Ukraine, which was formerly the Ukraine division of Aeroflot during the Communist era, operates one of the largest fleets of Russian aircraft, with over 200 aircraft now in service. Goncharenko describes these ageing aircraft as "obsolete", with over 70% of their design life consumed. He considers that there is an urgent need for new aircraft, explaining that the sight of these 30-year old Russian "monsters" among Western airliners is like the "last of the Mohicans."

Despite the move towards the Western products, Goncharenko does not rule out the acquisition of new-generation Russian airliners such as the Tupolev Tu-204 and Ilyushin Il-96. He says that their pricing must be more competitive, and points out that to a Ukrainian airline, a Russian airliner is as "foreign" as a Western product.

Source: Flight International