British Airways Poised for Tender to Replace Biggest 747 Fleet

British Airways will begin a tender later this year to evaluate replacements for its 55 aging Boeing Co. 747 jumbo jets, of which it’s the world’s biggest operator, fleet manager Alexander Grant said today in Barcelona.

BA will assess the merits of Airbus SAS’s A350-1000, the biggest version of the European company’s latest widebody, and two Boeing offerings, the planned 787-10, a stretch of the new Dreamliner, and the 777-9X re-winged development of the 777.

“We have a major challenge ahead of us in terms of assessing the opportunities out there,” Grant said today at the International Society of Transport Aircraft Trading conference. “All of those aircraft are going to be in a competition which we’ll be running later this year to really see what we can do.”

British Airways currently has 50 747s in service, plus five in storage. Some of the planes will be displaced by the arrival of 12 Airbus A380 superjumbos starting in 2013. The London-based company also has 24 787-8s and -9s on order, though has yet to agree delivery dates, according to spokesman Philip Allport.

International Consolidated Airlines Group SA, created in January from the merger of BA and Iberia, announced its first plane deal in March, ordering eight Airbus A330 aircraft worth $1.8 billion at list price for the Spanish unit. Chief Executive Officer Willie Walsh has earmarked fleet purchases as an area where the combined company aims to achieve economies of scale.

Jumbo Successor

BA’s 747-400s, built to a four-decade-old design, currently carry as many 345 people in a four-class seating configuration, according to the company’s website. Grant didn’t mention the 747-8 Intercontinental, the successor to the jumbo which Boeing aims to get certified and into service by the year’s end. The carrier has orders for three freighter versions of the plane.

The 330-seat 787-10 could enter service by 2016, Jim Albaugh, Boeing’s commercial airplanes chief, said in June at the Paris Air Show. He added that it would be a “surprise” if the plane wasn’t built, though no decision had been made.

The larger Dreamliner would provide a rival for Airbus’s A350-900 and steal a march on the -1000, which won’t be ready until 2017, according to a schedule announced June 18. The A350 models will be able to carry between 250 and 400 passengers.

Boeing’s decision to re-engine its 737 single-aisle plane rather than build an all-new model has freed up resources to develop the 787-10, marketing chief Randy Tinseth said today.

“We’re seeing more and more interest from customers on what the -10 might be able to do,” he said at the ISTAT event.

The 777-9X is the working name for a plane Boeing may build to improve on the 777-300ER, offering as many as 415 seats. There’s no rush to reach a decision on the project, with the existing 777 outselling the newer A350-1000, Tinseth said.

“We continue to look at what the design-space would look like for that next 777 product, whether it be minor improvements or major improvements or a new airplane,” he said.

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