Max Kingsley-Jones/London

Airbus has taken an important step towards a full programme launch for the A340-500/600 growth versions by securing commitments from two major airlines for the aircraft. Air Canada plans to take the types as part of a major A330/A340 deal, while Virgin Atlantic aims to become a launch customer with an order for up to 16 A340-600s.

Air Canada has announced its selection of the aircraft to replace its Boeing 747-100/200 "Classics", (Flight International, 30 July - 5 August) by signing a letter of intent to acquire five A330s and three A340s, with options for 20 additional aircraft, as the first instalment of a fleet-renewal plan to be carried out in three phases.

The Canadian carrier has specified the new long-range, high-gross-weight -300 version of the A330, and will take delivery of the first of the five aircraft in October 1999. These are expected to begin replacing the airline's Boeing 767 fleet. The airline says that decisions on subsequent phases of the programme will be made in response to market demand, particularly on the Asian routes. The Canadian carrier adds that it has "-capitalised on advantageous market conditions to secure favourable prices" from Airbus.

The decision on phase two is planned for March 1998, when the airline expects to hear whether it has approval for plans to add services to Hong Kong's new Chek Lap Kok airport from Toronto and Vancouver. Phase two calls for the delivery of five of the new Rolls-Royce Trent 500-powered A340-500/-600 growth models from 2002, with options for another ten. Phase three, which will be decided upon in 1999, would call for up to eight A330-300s or A340-300s to be delivered from 2000, to replace three Boeing 747-400 Combis.

Air Canada is already a major Airbus operator with a fleet of eight A340-300s, 12 A319s and 34 A320s, and if this latest fleet plan is taken up in full, would become an all-Airbus operator apart from its fleet of Canadair Regional Jets.

Virgin says that it will place firm orders for eight 375-seat Airbus A340-600s, with deliveries starting in 2002, and take options on eight more. Virgin, which operates eight A340-300s, says that the new larger aircraft will be deployed on routes to the US West Coast and Far East, as traffic grows.

Source: Flight International