By Leithen Francis in Singapore

India’s Kingfisher Airlines, which launched operations as a domestic low-fare carrier a year ago, has ordered five Airbus A340-500s for delivery from 2008.

The order follows discussions by Kingfisher, confirmed to Flight at the ISTAT conference in Florida last month, to acquire the type. Airbus adds that the deal includes options for five more. Rolls-Royce Trent 500 engines are the sole powerplant for the type.

Kingfisher chairman and founder Vijay Mallya and Airbus president and chief executive Gustav Humbert signed the A340 acquisition contract today at a ceremony in Hanover, Germany.

Mallya says: “With the A340-500 ultra-long haul aircraft, we will open up a completely new market.” These would include non-stop services from India to the USA. Mallya says Kingfisher’s A340-500s will have a “unique configuration” giving passengers extra space and comfort.

Mumbai-based Kingfisher launched operations last May as a low-cost carrier and currently has eight Airbus A320s and four Airbus A319s. But the airline has orders for five Airbus A380s, five A330s and five A350s, plus 30 additional A320-family jets. It has also ordered 35 ATR 72-500s, the first of which was delivered last month.

India’s prime minister Manmohan Singh, Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel and EADS chief executive Thomas Enders also attended the signing ceremony.

Manmohan’s presence is significant considering that Mallya has been lobbying the Indian Government to let his airline launch international services from 2007, when the first of Kingfisher’s A330s are due to be delivered. It also has the A380s and A350s on order arriving from 2010 and 2012 respectively.

Under the current Indian laws, local carriers are only permitted to launch international passenger operations after five years of continuous domestic operation, which means Kingfisher will have to wait until May 2010 to begin international services.

This article first appeared on Air Transport Intelligence, an online business intelligence service for the air transport industry with 24 hour news and data available to subscribers.

Source: Flight International