Max Kingsley-Jones/LONDON

British Airways is in final negotiations with express package specialist DHL for the sale of almost half of the UK airline's Boeing 757s, with a deal expected to be concluded in the coming months. The transaction, valued at around $500 million (including conversions), would give Boeing a launch customer for its 757 freighter modification programme.

BA operates 53 Rolls-Royce RB211-powered 757s, some of which are among the oldest in service. The airline is undergoing a major strategy revamp as part of its focus on yield rather than total passenger traffic, and revealed recently that some 757s would be replaced at its London Heathrow hub by smaller aircraft, such as Boeing 737-400s or Airbus A320s (Flight International, 12-18 May).

Over half of BA's 757s are at least 10 years old (the oldest are approaching 18 years), and are powered by the original lower thrust "C" version of the RB211-535. The deal with DHL is understood to cover at least 20 of the airline's 34 early -535C-powered aircraft, which will be removed progressively. The first is expected to go in early 2001.

Sources at Boeing's Wichita plant confirm that it is close to signing a launch customer for the 757 conversion programme. The company says that it is offering conversions for $6.8 million per aircraft, and will require 12-18 months from programme launch to complete initial conversions and gain certification. The deal would be worth around $140 million.

Both Boeing and GE Capital Aviation Services are believed to be intermediaries in the aircraft sale (worth an estimated $360 million), providing finance and/or acquiring the aircraft for lease to DHL.

Once completed, the aircraft will be delivered to DHL's European arm - Brussels-based DHL International/European Air Transport. The 30-35t/14-pallet freighters will gradually replace the 30 Boeing 727 freighters that serve DHL's European network. The carrier operates a single 757 freighter on services to Europe from the Middle East, and is thought also to have a requirement for new 757 freighters to supplement its converted fleet. The North American division - Cincinnati, Ohio-based DHL Airways - could also have a requirement for a large number of 757Fs to replace its 727Fs.

Meanwhile, BA is also believed to be rethinking its Boeing 747 fleet plans, having failed to secure a buyer for its 16 Rolls-Royce RB211-powered 747-200s. BA had planned to remove the 12-22 year-old aircraft from service over the next two to three years, but may opt to retain the aircraft until they are around 30 years old.

To keep capacity growth under control, some of its 57 747-400s could instead be disposed of, making them easier to be remarketed. Up to eight could be made available for sale.

Source: Flight International