Cathay Pacific Airways has entered into detailed discussions with Qantas of Australia and Virgin Atlantic Airways to sell its fleet of seven surplus Boeing 747-200 passenger aircraft. Qantas is also being offered an interim development of the proposed 747-400 increased-gross-weight (IGW) variant by Boeing to meet the carrier's planned delivery schedule.

After more than two months of talks, according to industry sources, Cathay has narrowed down negotiations to Qantas and Virgin, both of which are expressing "strong interest" in the Rolls-Royce RB.211-524-powered aircraft. Other airlines had also looked at the Hong Kong carrier's 747-200s, including Ansett International, British Airways and South African Airways.

The main attention of Qantas is focused on the two Cathay aircraft equipped with -524D4-standard engines, which are common with its own existing fleet of four RB.211-powered 747-200s. The Australian carrier, however, requires a total of four aircraft and, in addition to Virgin, is also looking at the five aircraft fitted with the earlier, lower-rated, -524C2s.

Airline officials say that no final decision has yet been taken on the purchase, and that any deal would still require board approval. Qantas' recent decision to scale back services from Brisbane and Perth to Asia could also undermine the need for additional capacity, warns one company source. Virgin is also believed to be looking at Air New Zealand's similar 747-200s.

In the meantime, Qantas is pressing Boeing to advance the introduction of the planned 747-400IGW, which the Seattle manufacturer is now offering to the market following a recent board approval. The proposed 413,140kg maximum take-off weight (MTOW) development of the 747 would not be available until late 2000.

The three new 747-400s already on order for the Australian carrier, which it wants completed to the new IGW-standard, are scheduled for delivery in October and November 1999 and March 2000. As an interim solution, Boeing is proposing to Qantas a 413,140kg MTOW "enabled aircraft" which would be operated initially at the existing 397,250kg MTOW, but would incorporate the 747-400 freighter's reinforced wing and modified fuselage and would be retrofitted with the redesigned wheels and brakes when they become available.

Source: Flight International