Max Kingsley-Jones/LONDON

British Airways' decision to order more Airbus narrowbodies rather than the Boeing 717 for its 100-seat needs is part of a major short-haul fleet strategy revamp.

According to sources within the carrier, the three-year-plan, which comes as part of the airline's strategy of reducing capacity and boost yields, will see BA's short-haul network being served predominantly by a mix of Airbus A320 family types and CFM International CFM56-powered Boeing 737s. Most of its 53 757-200s will be phased out or redeployed. The airline is also disposing of up to eight of its 28 Rolls-Royce RB211-powered 767-300ERs over the next three years, while many of the remaining aircraft move to longer-haul services from London Gatwick.

BA's deal for 12 Pratt & Whitney PW6000-powered A318s, plus 12 options, for delivery from January 2003, comes after an intense battle with Boeing, which was pitching its 717-200 twinjet. The airline needed a new 100-seater for its Manchester/Birmingham-based BA Regional (BAR) division as early as next year to replace its 18 non-Stage 3 compliant 737-200s. The 717 held an advantage as, unlike the A318, it was available within the timeframe. BA will instead acquire up to 20 100-seat 737-500s on five-year leases from next April, to enable all BAR's 737-200s to be phased out by early 2001. The 737-500s, which may also replace the airline's seven leased 737-300s, will be replaced by the A318s when they are delivered.

The A318 order comes as part of BA's landmark contract last year with Airbus for up to 188 A320 family aircraft, including 59 firm orders (39 A319s and 20 A320s). This first firm batch was initially slated for the BAR and Gatwick fleets and the first A319 was delivered to BA's Birmingham hub in early October. BA has allocated 49 new A319/A320s to its London Heathrow hub, which will be operated alongside its 10 ex-British Caledonian A320s. BA's fleet of 34 737-400s will be split between Heathrow and Gatwick.

BA's A318 selection represents the loss of a potential blue chip customer for Boeing, which was optimistic that the 717 would win.

Source: Flight International