Other potential customers for new Boeing widebody could emulate Singapore carrier's choice to delay commitment Airbus counter-proposals detail rival "A350" concept

Singapore Airlines (SIA) is finalising a major 777-300ER deal with Boeing as part of its 747-400 replacement plans, but in a surprise related move has deferred a decision on ordering the 7E7 for up to a year. The delay comes as the carrier awaits more details of Airbus's proposed rival offering, which could be designated the A350.

SIA has decided in principle to order 18 777-300ERs and take purchase rights on 13 more, say industry sources, and a deal was expected to have been finalised by now. However, Airbus A340-600 counter-proposals and issues surrounding a planned buyback by Boeing of part of SIA's original 777-200 fleet have delayed a formal signing.

SIA has informed manufacturers that it is postponing a key decision on orders for 200- to 250-seat aircraft by up to 12 months as it has yet to develop a viable business case.

The strategic postponement represents a setback to Boeing, which like many in the industry had been expecting a 7E7 order from the airline, which has long been in need of aircraft similar in size to the Airbus A310s that it has phased out. Industry observers believe SIA's deferral of a decision could prompt other potential 7E7 customers to delay pending deals.

Boeing launched the 7E7 with a 50-aircraft order from All Nippon Airways in April and SIA has said publicly that it is interested in the new type. But Airbus has quietly stepped up work on a proposed rival offering, and SIA's postponement will give the European manufacturer more time to study its options.

Airbus is also proposing the "A350" to other carriers including Qatar Airways, Lufthansa and Northwest Airlines, say the sources. It would be available shortly before the 7E7's 2008 service entry, they add, and would have the A330-200's fuselage, but substantial wing modifications and more-efficient engines.

SIA's pending 777-300ER order, meanwhile, has yet to be formally approved by the carrier's board, but this is expected soon. SIA will not confirm a selection, saying nothing has been formalised in a contest that began when requests for proposals were issued in February. SIA also cannot comment on the selection deferral in the smaller category, calling such a suggestion "hypothetical" until the other aspects of its fleet modernisation plans are firmed up.

Airbus was hoping to win the 747-400 replacement contest to ensure the A340-500 remains in SIA's fleet. The airline operates five A340-500s on routes to the USA but there has long been speculation they could be replaced with 777-200LRs. SIA is a major 777 operator with more than 50 Rolls-Royce Trent-powered -200/200ER/300s.

The 777-300ER selection came in large part because of the performance enhancement package announced by Boeing in July (Flight International, 20-26 July) that boosts its specification range and makes it more competitive against the 380t high gross-weight version of the A340-600, say the sources.



Source: Flight International