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A340-500 in frame for Brunei non-stop flights

NICHOLAS IONIDES / SINGAPORE

Airbus seeks to place grounded aircraft originally destined for struggling Air Canada

Royal Brunei Airlines is discussing a deal with Airbus for two A340-500s for new long-haul operations.

Industry sources say negotiations are at an advanced stage. Royal Brunei declines to comment directly on its interest in the A340-500, saying only that it is "looking at a number of alternative aircraft capable of operating its proposed non-stop route to London in summer 2004".

The aircraft under discussion are believed to be two examples originally due to have been delivered to launch operator Air Canada. Airbus has for months been seeking to place the two A340-500s, which are parked in Toulouse as a result of Air Canada's financial difficulties. The airline has been restructuring under bankruptcy protection since 1 April.

Airbus initially approached Emirates, which has A340-500s on order, as well as A340-600 operator South African Airways, hoping one carrier would agree to take on the aircraft. Apart from Emirates and Air Canada, Singapore Airlines is the only other airline customer for the -500.

Earlier this year Royal Brunei's board approved a long-term business plan that will include a major fleet modernisation and expansion, and the launch of extra services.

The plan will see the number of aircraft it operates increasing to 18 from 10 by 2013. The carrier's fleet comprises eight Boeing 767-300ERs and two Boeing 757s, although it will phase out the 757s after it acquires two Airbus A319s on lease from CIT Aerospace later this year. It recently agreed to lease two A320s, also from CIT.

By 2013, Royal Brunei's fleet is expected to comprise 12 new narrowbodies and six new widebodies, half of which will be leased and the other half purchased.

The airline plans to launch non-stop services between Bangkok in Thailand and Frankfurt in Germany this year, and next year non-stop services between Brunei and London, a distance of 11,300km (6,100nm). Services to London now fly via the Middle East.

Royal Brunei is also planning to launch new services to Auckland in New Zealand, Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, Seoul in South Korea, Sydney in Australia and Tokyo in Japan, between this year and 2005.

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