Andrew Doyle/MUNICH

The Qualiflyer Group of airlines is stepping up its fleet standardisation efforts following an order by GATX Flightlease for 38 Airbus aircraft for delivery between next year and 2006.

The SFr2.5 billion ($1.6 billion) deal covers 32 A320 family aircraft - 12 A318s, 10 A320s and 10 A321s - and six widebody A330-200s. GATX Flightlease was established last year as a joint venture between Swissair parent SAirGroup and GATX Capital of the USA.

Flightlease says all of the narrowbodies will be powered by CFM International CFM56s, making the company the second A318 customer after Air France to select the Franco/US powerplant over the rival Pratt & Whitney PW6000.

The A330s will have PW4000 engines, in common with those being acquired by Austrian Airlines, Sabena and Swissair as part of an earlier order.

Flightlease confirms that Qualiflyer member TAP Air Portugal is "likely" to take the bulk of the A330-200s in the latest order to replace its five A310-300s on longhaul routes. "There is a plan but no fixed deliveries for TAP - that's a matter for negotiation," it says.

Another alliance partner, AOM French Airlines, looks set to acquire some of the A320-family aircraft to replace its 10 Boeing MD-83s, although final decisions on aircraft placement have yet to be made.

The ultimate destination of the A318s remains unclear. "We don't know which airlines will finally take the A318s but there are, of course, plans," says Flightlease. "It's very important for the future that we can have a harmonised fleet in the Qualiflyer Group."

Airline sources suggest that Swissair itself is unlikely to take any of the 107-seat A318s because it would not be able to operate them profitably. The Swiss flag carrier's regional subsidiary, Crossair, is continuing its evaluation of potential replacements for its 12 MD-80s. A decision is due in mid-2000.

Swissair may swap some of its outstanding Airbus delivery slots for Flightlease slots if it needs to take delivery of aircraft earlier than originally planned, according to the company.

Austrian Airlines, which acquired A320-family aircraft and A330-200s as part of a joint order with Swissair and Sabena, but which is leaving Qualiflyer to join the rival Star Alliance, will continue its "business relationship" with Flightlease.

Source: Flight International