Chris Jasper/SHANGHAI


China Eastern Airlines is finalising plans to order new long-haul aircraft to replace its Boeing MD-11s, as it agrees a new delivery schedule for 10 A320s with Airbus Industrie.

China Eastern operates five Boeing MD-11 passenger aircraft and a single cargo version, but will remove the type from its passenger fleet over the next 12 months as the aircraft are converted to freighters. The aircraft will be modified by Israel Aircraft Industries and re-delivered to China Eastern's new cargo airline joint venture China Cargo Airlines.

China Eastern needs more long-haul aircraft to replace the MD-11s on services to the USA. The Boeing 747-400 and Rolls-Royce Trent 500-powered A340-500/600 are possibilities, and the airline says it will decide soon. With China Eastern's fleet predominantly made up of Airbus types - 24, including 10 A300-600Rs, nine leased A320s, and five A340-300s - the airline is leaning towards the A340-500/600.

But with the first of the new A340 models not available until 2002 and the MD-11s expected to be all out by 2000, the airline would require some form of interim lease deal if it were to choose Airbus. China Eastern had been due to take five CFM International CFM56-5-powered A320s this year and five in 2000, direct from the manufacturer, but has agreed terms to push deliveries back by a year. Only three A320s will be delivered in 1999, four more in 2000 and the final three in 2001.

All 10 A320s were ordered by China Aviation Supplies, the aircraft buying arm of the Chinese Government, in May 1997, and allocated to Shanghai-based China Eastern. The airline, however, is one of China's big three carriers and was badly hit by the Asian economic downturn. It must reign in capacity growth as traffic stagnates.

A lease deal between China Eastern and GE Capital Aviation Services (GECAS) covers 20 A320s, 10 of which will replace a similar number of Fokker 100s that the leasing company agreed to take in trade last year. Five A320s were delivered last year, with five more arriving this year. The other 10 A320-family aircraft will replace 13 Boeing MD-82s, which GECAS is taking in trade. Deliveries will run from August 2000 through 2002.

Source: Flight International