Paris Air Show

Aeroflot to sign for A350s, if not here, then at MAKS

 - June 13, 2007, 5:11 AM

EADS expects to sign a firm contract with Aeroflot for 22 of the new Airbus A350XWB airliners here at the Paris Air Show this week, or perhaps at Moscow’s MAKS’2007 event in August. This follows the signing of a memorandum of understanding on the deal in March this year.

In the meantime, the Russian flag carrier has selected leasing group AerCap to supply five A330-200s next year and three more in 2009 as a stopgap solution. Aeroflot general director Valery Okulov said that “to be on the safe side” the airline will take three to five initial-production A350XWBs on operating leases and then, upon completion of the new model’s “operational trials,” will either firm up or cancel its plans for longer term leases on all 22 aircraft outlined in the agreement.

By 2010, the additional A330s will replace 11 Boeing 767-300ERs in Aeroflot’s fleet. The airline has selected the A330/ A350 combination partly to benefit from Airbus cross-crew qualification for pilot training, as it already operates 27 Airbus narrowbodies. By the end of this year, Aeroflot intends to increase its Airbus fleet to 32 units, rising to 59 aircraft by the end of 2009. When this process is complete, it no longer would have any U.S.-built airliners in its service.

Aeroflot has operated Boeing jetliners alongside Airbuses since the middle of 1990s, starting with leased 767-200ERs and A310s. In late 1990s it added two 777-200ERs and ten 737-400s. In November 2002 Aeroflot launched a major fleet renewal that involved replacing leased 777s (which it found to be too big for its needs) with additional 767-300ERs. At the same time, 737 Classics were usurped by A320 family aircraft.

Earlier this year, Aeroflot decided to withdraw its entire fleet of 28 Russian-built Tupolev Tu-154Ms in 2011. By that time, the A320 will be the only narrowbody type in Aeroflot inventory.

It will also withdraw the only McDonnell Douglas type in its service, represented by four DC-10-40F freighters, within the next two years. Earlier Aeroflot had wanted to replace them with more modern MD-11Fs, but recent developments indicate that the American trijet will lose out to six Ilyushin Il-96-400Ts, which Aeroflot signed for in April.

Not surprisingly, Aeroflot’s new approach to fleet renewal has hit opposition both inside and outside the company. Some believe the decisions are influenced politically and could compromise the competitive environment in the Russian air transport market.

For instance, Russia is now to be upset at German-led resistance to its OAK airframing group becoming a major shareholder in the Airbus parent group EADS. Some observers have questioned whether this issue may yet undermine Aeroflot’s commitment to buying more Airbus equipment, although its desire for technical commonality would seem to outweigh such considerations.