Paul Lewis/TAIPEI

Taiwan's two rival national carriers China Airlines (CAL) and EVA Airways are showing renewed interest in new ultra-long-haul aircraft, in response to the recent provisional launch of the Airbus Industrie A340-500/600 and a proposed open-skies agreement with the USA.

Competition between Boeing and Airbus in Taiwan is once again heating up, as the two carriers appear poised to place potentially large orders for widebodied aircraft. Both manufacturers are understood to be stepping up local marketing and sales efforts to secure deals.

CAL and EVA have longstanding requirements for new aircraft, but have held off making any final decisions for more than two years. With Taipei and Washington expected to finalise a new open-skies bilateral treaty shortly, growing international competition and production slots starting fill up, the issue of fleet renewal is taking on heightened urgency.

The two carriers are also engaged in an increasingly bitter battle for traffic out of Taiwan, and an order from one airline will be likely to prompt a decision by the second. The two companies, however, have different equipment and funding requirements. "CAL needs the aircraft to modernise, but EVA has the means to buy them," notes an industry official.

CAL wants to replace its Boeing 747SPs ,747-200s and MD-11s and Airbus A300s on regional and long-haul routes with nine 300-seaters and 16 350-seaters. Boeing is offering a mixed package of 767s, 777-200s, -200Xs and 300Xs, while Airbus is proposing its A330/A340 family. The airline's eventual goal is to reduce its fleet to just four types, including the 747-400 (of which it has two) and the newly ordered 737-800.

EVA has the advantage of newer fleet of 767s, 747s and MD-11s but, like CAL, is keen acquire a new ultra-long-haul type to open up non-stop services to the US East Coast and Europe. A ban on Taiwanese aircraft using China's airspace severely restricts direct flights to Europe with existing aircraft. EVA needs up to16 of either the 777-200X or A340-500 over four years.

Taiwanese reliance on US political support against China is widely regarded to have traditionally favoured US manufacturers and in 1995 CAL and EVA signed letters of intent to order 777s. Boeing's recent take-over of McDonnell Douglas is now prompting Taiwanese carriers to pay more attention to Airbus as an alternative competitive supplier, say local sources.

A factor in the timing of the Taiwanese airlines' decision is the availability of growth engines for the 777. While Rolls-Royce is offering the Trent 8104, the two US engine manufacturers are known to be putting together a joint venture programme to power the new aircraft, and the airlines may wait until a firm offer is available from General Electric and Pratt & Whitney before finalising their selections.

Source: Flight International