UK airline Thomsonfly is on the verge of reopening discussions on acquiring up to 15 widebody aircraft and expects to make a decision on an order by 2007.

The all-Boeing operator, which is part of the TUI Group and was last year rebranded from Britannia Airways, will choose between the Airbus A330/A350 and Boeing 787-8 to replace its 767 fleet.

Speaking at the launch of its new Boeing 757/767 interior design at the airline's London Luton Airport base last week, Kevin Hatton, who is managing director of Thomsonfly as well as chief executive of TUI Airline Management, which controls the operations of TUI's seven in-house carriers, said: "2007 would be the window for making any decision about swapping for new aircraft."

Thomsonfly's "ongoing" 13 to 15-strong widebody fleet renewal evaluation has now rejoined its active agenda, says Hatton, and TUI UK chief executive Peter Rothwell adds that the airline has "engaged constructively with both manufacturers. It could be a linked deal with the other airlines in the group," but no formal tender has yet been issued. TUI Group currently operates a total fleet of around 105 aircraft.

The airline participated in an Airbus workshop session for the A350 two weeks ago, but Hatton says that, for the fleet renewal, the existence of multiple engine options is of paramount importance to Thomsonfly. Airbus has yet to reach agreement with Rolls-Royce on an alternative to the already selected General Electric GEnx powerplant. "It is very important that we have dual sourcing opportunities," says Hatton.

While the new type would serve to replace existing aircraft, the narrowbody fleet is increasing in size. Hatton says: "We're hopeful of growing our fleet again next year. The potential would be further Boeing 737 acquisitions."

Thomsonfly will operate a 43-strong 737/757/767 fleet for the 2005 summer season, compared with 30 in previous summers. This may be stepped up to 50 aircraft by summer 2006.


Source: Flight International