Four manufacturers pitch for possible order for up to 100 aircraft, plus 100 options

Air Canada, Austrian Airlines, Lufthansa and Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) have begun detailed talks with four manufacturers about an order for 70- to 120-seat regional aircraft that will be commonly specified across the Star Alliance carriers.

The airlines are talking to Airbus, Boeing, Bombardier and Embraer about a potential order for up to 100 aircraft with 100 options in what they dub the Star Alliance Regional Jet Campaign. The Airbus A318, Boeing 717, Bombardier CRJ700 and CRJ900, and the Embraer 170/190 family have been identified as candidate aircraft.

An order could be placed before the end of this year to enable deliveries to begin in 2005.

Austrian chief executive Vagn Sorensen, who leads the Star Alliance fleet co-ordination working group that spawned the regional jet campaign, says a potentially lower upfront price for the aircraft is not the driving factor, although he admits there should be "economies of scale" due to the larger volume order.

The airlines, however, are mostly focused on cost savings through common operation, maintenance and training opportunities, the ability to dry-lease their common-specified aircraft between Star partners, and increased residual values for such aircraft.

Legally, the individual carriers must place their orders directly with the manufacturer once the Star Alliance team has made its selection and established terms. Sorensen says the selection "might very well become a combination purchase" from two manufacturers.

Sorensen says the vast majority of hurdles to a common specification aircraft are being overcome. Galley layout, number of toilets, and lighting panels will be common across the four airlines' aircraft. A major issue remaining is aircraft performance, with Austrian and Lufthansa, for example, having to decide whether to give up "expensive" Category 3A capability that allows them to operate in low visibility. "You can live with non-specification items if there are cost advantages," says Sorensen. "Each airline has given in on some requirements."

US Airways, meanwhile, has become the latest carrier to join Star after its application was approved by the alliance's chief executive board.

Source: Flight International