Concerns over the robustness of delivery schedules for potential new large twinjet acquisitions could prompt British Airways to opt for additional Boeing 777-300ERs as an interim solution.
The UK carrier is incorporating the second phase of its widebody fleet replacement order into a joint deal with sister airline Iberia (both are owned by International Airlines Group), and is evaluating new large widebodies including the Airbus A350-1000 and Boeing's proposed upgraded 777X.
"We've got a large-aircraft [acquisition] programme and so has Iberia, so we'll get a better buying capability by combining the two," said British Airways' chief executive Keith Williams, in an interview with Flightglobal's Airline Business magazine.
Dubbed the "big-twin" deal, Williams adds that the order is being negotiated at "IAG level with input from BA".
The first of 12 A380s and 24 787s BA ordered as the first part of its widebody renewal programme will arrive in the first half of next year - later than scheduled. But Williams says that the delays did not create much of problem for BA, because it has had the flexibility to retain some of the 747-400s earmarked for replacement for longer than planned to cover for the delays.
"But when we get into the big-twin programme, our 747s will be that little bit older so we won't have the same flexibility as we had this time round, so we'd like some certainty on the delivery schedule."
The two types under evaluation include the Airbus A350 and Boeing's proposed enhanced 777X derivatives. Although delivery of the A350-1000 is slated for 2017, there is speculation this could slip again and the schedule for the upgraded 777 is unclear.
In the interim, BA has taken six of eight 777-300ERs it has on order, which are "partly a hedge on late deliveries", and Williams says that one option could be to take more. "The problem is, is the next generation going to be so much more fuel efficient than 777-300ERs to make it worth waiting for? But I'm conscious of the fact that if you wait for something and it never turns up eventually you don't have any aircraft."
Meanwhile BA is also turning its attention to the replacement of the ageing 737-400 fleet that serve its short-haul network from London Gatwick. But Williams says that he must be sure of a sound business case for Gatwick's short-haul operations. "I need to justify that [fleet replacement] to IAG with a plan that is built around the ability to make a return," he says.