Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) has taken a major step forward with its long-delayed plans to upgrade its fleet by committing to orders for eight widebody Boeing 777s.

The deal covers three 777-200ERs, two 777-200LRs and three larger 777-300ERs. Deliveries are due to begin in February 2004 and continue until 2008. PIA expects financing to come in part from the US Export-Import Bank.

PIA said in August that it planned to place orders for up to eight new widebody aircraft for delivery through 2008 but said at the time that it would initially only order three 777-200ERs.

The airline has been considering the acquisition of new aircraft for years but order plans have repeatedly been deferred because of political troubles and financial difficulties. Pakistan's government recently promised to provide financial support for aircraft orders, however, and the carrier's purchasing department has since been busy.

The 777 deal was announced just months after PIA purchased six Boeing 747-300s from Cathay Pacific Airways. It had already been leasing five of the aircraft from the Hong Kong carrier.

Source: Airline Business