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British Airways Looks at Stop-Gap in Long Haul Capacity

Updated on August 6, 2012


There have been concerns for some time now in the industry over the ability of both Airbus and Boeing to deliver on their commitments for new airframes (even with revisions to revisions) and in particular the large twin new project market. Commitments made and broken in the A380 and B787 projects have made airlines very weary in their fleet planning and capital spend programmes.

As an interim measure, so as to provide greater certainty, as much as can ever be provided in the aviation industry, it is reported that British Airways is looking at adding to its B777-300ER fleet. British Airways currently operates six B777-300ERs and has another two on order.

Since its integration under its new parent International Airlines Group (IAG) with the Spanish flag carrier Iberia, British Airways is looking at both the proposed 777X upgrade and the A350-1000. This process will be the second stage in British Airways’ long haul replacement process with the first step resulting in the ordering of 12 A380-800s, 8 B787-800s and 16 B787-900s. These aircraft are still planned for entry into service starting the first half of 2013. The A380 will be used as the first step in British Airways replacing its again B747 fleet and the B787s on the replacement of its medium and long haul B767 operations.

British Airways CEO Keith Williams has stated that the second phase of the long haul programme is going to be as significant as the first with the company expecting considerable savings to be achieved through the co-ordination with Iberia in the process. And as such the drive for the economies and better fleet integration between the two airlines is being driven by IAG.

Both the A350 and B777X will bring significant gains to British Airways in providing greater fleet flexibility and savings through improved fuel efficiency and of course a newer fleet having lower initial maintenance costs. However the A350 is still only pencilled in for delivery in 2017, with slippage expected from Airbus, while the B777X schedule has not yet been worked through with Boeing. The B787 programme was a steep learning curve for Boeing with a lot of market credibility lost through significant programme slippage and consequential airline compensation arrangements. It will therefore be much more cautious in its commitments for the expected B777X programme.

Of course at some point British Airways will have to make tracks down a firm large twin order. Its aging fleet of B747-400s (currently numbered at 57) has provided it flexibility with the delays caused in A380 and B787 delays, but this flexibility will only decrease as the fleet ages further and the economies in fuel and maintenance no longer make it operationally viable. Having been first introduced in 1989 the B747 has been the mainstay for British Airways long haul operations, in particular across the Atlantic and further south down to the far-east and Australia. The replacement aircraft will need the operational flexibility in both its fatter high traffic routes but also provide the company with the ability to service its thinner routes, for example down to Africa, in an efficient manner.

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