Airbus and Boeing square up for expected fleet updates in region as CAL, Cathay Pacific and SIA study widebodies.

China Airlines (CAL) has begun an internal evaluation of replacement options for its older Boeing 747-400s, as Airbus and Boeing prepare for expected competitions at several other Asia-Pacific carriers over the next year.

CAL confirms it has launched internal studies into a 747-400 replacement, although it does not know when a request for proposals (RFP) may be issued or how many aircraft will be required.

The Taiwanese carrier says the Airbus A340-600 and Boeing 777-300ER are most likely to be considered in a future competition, and possibly the Airbus A380.

Several other Asia-Pacific carriers are studying replacement options for their older 747-400s, among them Air New Zealand (ANZ), Cathay Pacific Airways and Singapore Airlines (SIA).

ANZ has been conducting internal evaluations since early this year on the A340-600 and 777-300ER as potential replacements for some or all of its eight 747-400s, half of which are owned and the other half on lease from International Lease Finance (ILFC) (Flight InternationaI, 29 April -5 May).

Hong Kong's Cathay has long been considering acquiring either A340-600s or 777-300ERs, and the manufacturers are hopeful that a formal competition may be launched over the next year. The airline operates three A340-600s, but these are on lease from ILFC and the airline has said the new large, longer-range 777 variant will be considered for future needs.

Cathay's long-range requirement is widely believed to cover between 15 and 20 aircraft. 'It is coming, though we are not yet at the RFP stage,' says engineering director Derek Cridland. 'Just because we have leased three A340-600s doesn't with certainty mean we will get any more,' he says, adding that the aircraft are 'doing OK' on routes from Hong Kong to Sydney, Vancouver and Los Angeles. The aircraft were originally taken to fly the ultra-long-haul New York to Hong Kong route, which is now expected to be inaugurated later in 2004 after two postponements.

The longer-range fleet requirement is being spurred by Cathay Pacific's expanded route network plans, which include a round-the-world flight, as well as increased frequencies from Hong Kong to Sydney and London.

SIA, meanwhile, is preparing to issue an RFP for aircraft to replace some of its older 747-400s, and the A340-600 and 777-300ER are to be considered. The airline issued such an RFP -which covered replacements for Airbus A310-300s that have since been phased out - early this year, but withdrew it after the SARS outbreak.

SIA's RFP is due at any time. The A340-600 will be seen as a leading candidate, as the carrier has five A340-500s on firm order and five on option. But the 777-300ER will also be seen as a strong contender as the carrier is a major operator of 777-200, -200ER and -300 variants.

Source: Flight International