Andrew Doyle/SEATTLE Max Kingsley-Jones/LONDON

British Airways is finalising a deal with Rolls-Royce to upgrade the engines on half of its 50-strong fleet of RB211-powered Boeing 747-400s, as it finalises a plan to phase out the remainder of its "classic" 747 variants within the next four years.

The proposed contract, which would have a book value to R-R of around $400 million, would lead to 108 of BA's RB211-524G/H engines - covering the 25 aircraft plus spares - being which retrofitted with the core of the larger Trent 700 engine, dubbed the the "hybrid" RB211-524G/HT. The work would begin in September 1999 but a company has not yet been selected for the retrofit.

The modification is designed to offset the higher-than-expected degradation in fuel efficiency and exhaust gas temperature margins suffered by the existing engines. The problem has left BA struggling to maintain a large enough pool of 747-400s capable of operating its longest routes from restricted airfields.

BA general manager fleet planning, Rod Muddle, says: "We needed a viable subfleet of long-range aircraft and this does it for us." The final six of the remaining 747-400s BA has on firm order will also be delivered with the upgraded RB211-524G/HT engines, for a total "subfleet" of 31 aircraft.

There are no plans at the moment to retrofit the airline's other 26 747-400s and the 28 767-300ERs powered by the same engine, but it is considering retrofitting more aircraft in the longer-term. BA is, however, known to have considered the possibility of disposing of some older 747-400s.

Meanwhile, BA is finalising a plan to accelerate the phase-out of its 16 RB211-powered 747-200s as it moves to standardise on the two- crew 747-400/777 models for its long-haul operations. BA has just begun retiring its 15 747-100s after almost 30 years service and had previously been expected to retain the -200s, which are between 10 and 22 years old, for a similar period.

Bob Dick, BA's director of purchasing says that the current plan is to phase out the -200s between 2000 and 2002, and the aircraft, which are currently used primarily on services to points in the eastern USA, will basically be replaced by the recently ordered high gross weight 777-200ERs.

BA owns 13 of its 747-200s (including two combis) while a further three aircraft (two passenger models and a combi) were sold and leased back some time ago. Dick confirms that buyers are being sought for the aircraft, and that it is likely that they will go for freighter conversion. "Atlas Air is a prime candidate for the aircraft," says Dick, but he adds that discussions are also being held with a number of other parties.

Source: Flight International