Air China is looking to acquire new 120- to 130-seat aircraft to replace Boeing 737-300s as part of a major expansion programme spurred on by growth in the domestic market. Its cargo subsidiary is meanwhile negotiating with Boeing to purchase 747-400 Freighters.

Air China and its subsidiaries have a group fleet of 128 aircraft, of which around 35 are 737-300s.

Head of corporate development Zhao Xiao Hang says the carrier is forecasting market growth of 10-12% a year, and over the next five years it plans to acquire around 100 aircraft, with 80-90 of these to be used on domestic routes.

"There is a lot of growth in the domestic market," says Zhao. "Air China plans to expand its domestic network so we think we need more 120- to 130-seat aircraft. We find that all domestic flights generally accommodate 110 people so a 120- to 130-seat aircraft would be ideal."

Zhao declines to disclose aircraft types under consideration but the Airbus A320 family and Boeing Next Generation 737 are the prime candidates - both types are already operated by the group. Air China will be retiring its 737-300s and some 767s and 757s over the next five years.

The airline is evaluating its options to add more full-freighter aircraft, having recently spun off its cargo division into a separate subsidiary, Air China Cargo. The division was set up in March, to take over Air China's four 747-200Fs. The airline has a 51% stake while partners Beijing Capital International Airport and CITIC Pacific hold 24% and 25%, respectively.

The airline has already stated its intention to acquire 747-400Fs, and Zhao says that "if it is economical" Air China will have some of its 747-400 passenger and combi aircraft converted to freighters. It has also been considering buying new-build -400Fs, and has held talks with Boeing about a deal, says Zhou. He warns that "if the cost is too high then maybe [it is] not a good option."

Air China Cargo has three new Rolls-Royce RB211-powered Tupolev Tu-204-120C freighters on order from the Aviastar plant in Ulyanovosk, but delivery has slipped due to technical issues.

Source: Flight International