Japan Airlines (JAL) has begun reviewing proposals from Airbus and Boeing for at least 30 new narrowbody aircraft and is expected to make a selection within the next few months.

JAL is planning to replace its fleet of about 40 Boeing MD-80/90s beginning in fiscal 2006-7 and issued a tender in October (Flight International, 12-18 October). Industry sources say bids were submitted last month and include a minimum of 30 firm orders plus options that, if fully exercised, would also replace JAL's fleet of about 20 Boeing 737-400s.

JAL has told manufacturers and suppliers an order could be placed late this month, but most expect a selection to be made next year in the late first quarter or early second quarter. Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 family aircraft are being evaluated and sources say the manufacturers' campaigns have entered a critical period.

Sources say problems with JAL's 25 MD-81/87s have persuaded the carrier to accelerate replacement of the aircraft and order a new narrowbody type before selecting a Boeing 767 replacement. JAL in January grounded all its MD-81/87s after discovering cracks in several Pratt & Whitney JT8D-217-series engines.

JAL has concluded that the cracks were caused by brazing repair work, which reduced the fatigue life of the stator vane. The problem has been rectified by immediately repairing 33 affected engines, gradually replacing the eighth stator stage on seven engines and modifying the P&W repair manual. But sources say JAL is keen to replace its MD-81/87s and its MD-90s, which were not affected by the grounding, to avoid possible future reliability problems and stay competitive with All Nippon Airways (ANA) in the domestic market.

ANA will begin taking a new fleet of 45 Boeing 737-700s in October next year, some of which may be operated by new low-cost subsidiary Air Next. JAL is also keen to replace its 737-400s after its MD-80/90s are phased out, but has not ruled out selecting two aircraft types.



Source: Flight International