Malaysian budget carrier AirAsia has indicated that it expects to convert some of its existing Airbus A320 orders to the re-engined A320neo, although Airbus has a general policy of not allowing conversions.

AirAsia's group chief executive Tony Fernandes says an order announcement "will happen soon. "It's a $7 billion deal. As much as I like to get things done quickly, you can't rush it."

In 2016, the airline will be left with only 10 A320s on delivery, says Fernandes. Airbus plans to introduce the A320neo in 2016. AirAsia has 86 A320s on order, as listed by Flightglobal's ACAS database.

The airline said in February that it had pushed back the delivery of 10 A320s from 2012 to 2015, which would give it some flexibility to switch between the existing A320 variant to a "new-generation A320, which is more fuel efficient".

Airbus has said it is "not foreseen" that customers with existing orders for A320s will be able to switch to A320neos, but Fernandes indicates that conversions are likely to take place. However, he adds that these will be minimal. "We don't need to convert that many," he says.

AirAsia has previously deferred deliveries for other reasons, such as infrastructural constraints at the airport it serves.

However, it recently accelerated the delivery of two to three aircraft for its associate carrier in the Philippines, says Fernandes. The A320s, originally scheduled to be delivered in 2012, will now arrive at the end of 2011 instead.

The Manila-based affiliate carrier will begin international flights in the fourth quarter of this year.

Source: Flight International