REGION AIR OF Singapore is near to finalising a deal to lease its first Airbus Industrie A320 to Vietnam Airlines, as negotiations continue for the lease of a further eight narrow body aircraft.

Vietnam Airlines is expected to take delivery of the aircraft - its eighth A320 - as soon as a decision is made on whether to wet- or dry-lease the aircraft. The carrier is still waiting to be granted its own A320 operator certificate.

It already operates seven wet-leased A320s, with a mix of Air France and Vietnamese crews. The CFM56-powered aircraft will need replacing from the end of the year, when they are due to start being returned to owner Air France.

Region Air is understood to be leading the bidding, with an offer of eight new A320s, powered by International Aero Engines V2500 turbofans. Other proposed replacement aircraft include the Boeing 737 and the McDonnell Douglas MD-80/90.

Vietnam Airlines is also understood to be discussing with Region Air the lease of up to three of the larger A340s (Flight International, 1-7 March). The company has already ordered one A340 from Airbus and is negotiating to buy a further two secondhand aircraft from Air France.

A final decision has not yet been taken, and the airline is still considering offers for the Boeing 747 and the McDonnell Douglas MD-11, says a Vietnam Airlines official. He adds that any lease agreement is likely to include a trial period for proper evaluation and route proving.

The airline requires a new long-range aircraft to operate on routes to Europe, including its recently launched service to Berlin and Paris. Vietnam Airlines also expects to fly to North America as soon as it concludes an air-services agreement, with the US Government.

Source: Flight International