Herman de Wulf/BRUSSELS

TNT Airways hopes to finalise selection of a new aircraft by October to replace its Boeing 727 freighters over the next three years. The choice of aircraft could affect the size of the airline's Airbus A300B4 freighter fleet.

The express package carrier, based in Liège, Belgium, began flying under its own air operator's certificate in mid-February, with a fleet of two 42t payload A300B4Fs, seven 23t payload 727-200F Advs and seven 11t payload British Aerospace 146-200/300QTs. The fleet is set to expand to 31 aircraft, with additional BAe 146s joining from Air Foyle about every two or three weeks. TNT is taking over the operation of the 17 Air Foyle operated BAe 146s following the ending of its operating contract.

The phasing out of TNT's 727s is due to start next year, as environmental restrictions are seriously affecting night-time operations of the noisy tri-jets. Five 727s will go in 2001 and the last two in 2002.

"Between the BAe 146 and the A300B4s, we need an intermediate type," says TNT Airways managing director Niky Terzakis. "We are studying several possibilities and we hope to reach a decision by October. The new aircraft will enter service as the 727s are phased out," he says.

Terzakis declines to specify the types under consideration, but probable candidates include the Boeing 737-300QC, 757-200F and possibly the Tupolev Tu-204C. TNT is operating a single 25t payload Tu-204C on ad hoc charter from UK leasing firm AirRep from its Liège hub.

The size of the A300 fleet could be affected by the mid-sized aircraft selected, says Terzakis. "We have plans for up to 14 A300B4s: six in the short term, of which two are already operated. Depending on the new type chosen, the Airbus fleet may become smaller - between eight and 12".

He says that only 25% of TNT's shipments travel by air, with the bulk going by road. "We are looking into using high-speed trains in the future. By 2003 there will be a high-speed rail freight service linking Liège and Paris," he says.

Source: Flight International