Manufacturer is looking for a taker for nine aircraft ordered for now-bankrupt Swissair

Airbus is attempting to recruit Lufthansa as a launch operator for the A340-600 with an attractive lease deal on the first three aircraft originally earmarked for Swissair.

However the German flag-carrier says it has rejected the offer and is sticking to its current delivery schedule for the stretched A340, which will see its first aircraft handed over in mid-2003.

Airbus is casting around for takers for nine Swissair aircraft ordered by the latter's leasing affiliate Flightlease but cancelled following the financial collapse of the Swiss flag-carrier. Virgin Atlantic, due to be the first operator of the A340-600, has meanwhile shelved plans to begin taking its aircraft from June 2002 leaving Cathay Pacific as a reluctant potential launch operator. Talks on the delivery of the Virgin aircraft continue, however.

Lufthansa, which already has 10 A340-600s on order, says Airbus approached it with an offer on the first three Flightlease aircraft "a couple of months ago", but the proposal is being rejected because it would be "too expensive" to modify the cabins and systems on the ex-Flightlease A340s to meet its own specifications. "The case is now closed," says the German airline, which operates a large fleet of A340-200/300s and recently confirmed a deal for 15 A380s. "There are no further talks with Airbus planned from our side," it adds.

Despite Lufthansa's comments, sources familiar with the discussions say Airbus still believes it can do a deal with the German airline. The sources add that Lufthansa decided to break-off the talks after Airbus withdrew its original offer and resubmitted a proposal containing less favourable terms.

Airbus declines to comment other than saying the manufacturer is "actively marketing these aircraft" and that there are "several possibilities". However, Iberia is understood to be discussing a possible switch of two of three A340-300s due for delivery next year to the larger -600, while South African Airways could be interested in some or all of the aircraft.

Airbus is to market a "very, very important person" (VVIP) conversion of the A340-200 as the "World Ranger". The company has nine VVIP versions of the aircraft currently in service, largely sold on an ad hoc basis to heads of state. Priced at $120 million green, the 60-70 seat World Ranger will now be marketed by the Airbus A319 Corporate Jetliner (ACJ) team. A market for "at least" two customers per year is envisaged, says Airbus.

Source: Flight International