Nicholas Ionides/SINGAPORE Paul Lewis/WASHINGTON DC

Singapore Aircraft Leasing Enterprise (SALE) is negotiating with Airbus to order four A380s as it eyes the potential leasing market for the ultra-large aircraft and possibly an opportunity to leverage off Singapore Airlines' (SIA) heavily discounted launch order.

SALE is discussing a tentative commitment to taking the A380, say sources. The order is subject to further studies of the aircraft's leasing potential and board approval. It is also understood that SALE is discussing with part-owner SIA possible financing help for some of the 10 firm A380s that the carrier has ordered for delivery from 2006.

The company, in which Boullioun Aviation Services is also a part owner, has historically followed the Singapore carrier and its regional arm SilkAir in ordering aircraft.

Cathay Pacific Airways is seen by SALE as a possible leasing customer. The Hong Kong carrier has been conservative in its fleet planning after suffering during the Asia-Pacific economic downturn from mid 1997, and has repeatedly deferred plans to purchase long-range aircraft.

The carrier's immediate priority is a replacement for the seven 747-200 freighters operated by itself and subsidiary carrier Air Hong Kong. Longer term, Cathay, requires new large and ultra-large long-haul passenger aircraft. This forms part of a larger request for proposals issued to suppliers last October.

Boeing views Cathay along with Korean Air as among its best remaining near-term prospects for launching a freighter version of the rival 747X. It is understood to have tabled offers to both carriers.

If SALE firms up an A380 deal, it will be the second lessor to commit to the type after International Lease Finance, which signed an initial commitment for five aircraft. GECAS has also been considering a A380 order.

The leasing companies are targeting carriers like Cathay that might be wary of the financial risks associated with ordering the A380.

Source: Flight International