Qantas is considering the Airbus A350 and Boeing 777X as potential replacements for its ageing fleet of Boeing 747 jumbo jets.
In a presentation held in Seattle over the weekend, ahead of today's delivery flight of Jetstar's first Boeing 787, Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce flagged what he called "the next big decisions" on the airline's fleet.
This also encompasses replacements for the smaller Boeing 717s used for services to regional Australia as well as Sydney-Canberra route, and the Boeing 737-800 which remains the workhorse of Qantas' domestic fleet.
Qantas’ partner Emirates is deeply involved in the planning of the Boeing 777X program, an improved version of Boeing's successful 777 series which is expected to begin commercial flights towards the end of the decade.
The 777X will be offered in two versions: the 777-8 will replace the Boeing 777-300ER with a capacity of 350 passengers in a three-class configuration, while the 777-9 is a stretched version which will be the world's largest twin-engine commercial jet.
Boeing says the advanced design and technology, including a 787-inspired composite wing plus all-new engines, will achieve 20 percent lower fuel consumption and 15 percent lower operating costs than the 777-300ER.
Lufthansa has already signed up as launch customer for the 777X, while Emirates CEO Tim Clark is looking to place a substantial order if the 777X can meet his reportedly stringent specifications.
Or perhaps the Airbus A350?
Going up against the Boeing 777X is the Airbus A350-1000, due from 2016 and already ordered by British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Singapore Airlines, Qatar Airways, United and Lufthansa among others.
Another strong contender is the Boeing 787, which Joyce said would be ordered only in the stretched 787-9 version, although the even longer 787-10 could also find its way into the mix.
“The 787-9 is a long-range aircraft which can fly to the US, which can fly to Dallas, and it's ideal to open up a range of new routes for the Qantas network than we’ve seen before” Alan Joyce told Australian Business Traveller.
“They’ll also replace some of the older aircraft that we have, like the older 747s and the A330-300s."
None of this means that Qantas will be abandoning its flagship Airbus A380, of which the Flying Kangaroo already has 12 in the fleet, with two more due in 2016-2107 and the final six to be delivered from 2018-2019.
However, Joyce is unlikely to spread his love or Qantas' money too thinly as he drives a 'simplification' of the airline's fleet to fewer aircraft types in both the domestic and international arms to reduce operating costs while taking advantage of the opportunity to retire older planes and bring in new aircraft with increased fuel efficiency and lower maintenance costs.
"This year the Qantas fleet is the youngest it's ever been, and it will go lower again when we retire the Boeing 767s, it will actually go below Singapore Airlines in age for the next couple of years" Joyce told journalists in Seattle.
Australian Business Traveller visited Seattle as a guest of Qantas and Boeing.
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