Airbus closes in on Air France jetliner deal: sources

By Tim Hepher
The logo of Airbus is pictured at their facility in Montoir-de-Bretagne near Saint-Nazaire

By Tim Hepher

LONDON (Reuters) - Airbus <AIR.PA> is close to a deal worth billions of dollars to sell dozens of A320neo-family and smaller A220 aircraft to Air France as the French network carries out a keenly awaited renewal of its medium-haul fleet, industry sources said.

The deal could include as many as 50-70 Canadian-designed A220 jets, formerly known as CSeries, to replace Air France's aging fleet of roughly 50 A318 and A319 aircraft, they said.

Air France is also expected to pick the A320neo family to replace approximately 40 earlier versions of the Airbus A320 that are up to 18 years old.

A spokeswoman for Franco-Dutch parent Air France-KLM <AIRF.PA> said: "Air France is pursuing work on its medium-haul fleet renewal. No decision has been taken at this stage."

Airbus declined to comment on the deal, which is expected to be formally discussed at an end-month Air France-KLM board meeting.

The expected deal marks a rebound for Airbus after rival Boeing <BA.N> poached part of the fleet of British Airways owner IAG <ICAG.L> at last month's Paris Airshow.

That deal caught Airbus off guard, though in the longer term sources say it may also have eased the European planemaker's anxieties over the grounding of Boeing's 737 MAX following the Ethiopian Airlines crash in March.

Airbus privately hopes the MAX will survive the crisis to avoid a costly race to develop all-new aircraft and to ease the prospect of a radical change in certification rules.

The anticipated Air France deal also illustrates Airbus's recent deliberate effort to boost A220 sales by packaging deals together with its benchmark A320, industry sources said.

Airbus bought the loss-making A220 programme from Canada's Bombardier <BBDb.TO> last year and immediately began offering it to customers that already have other Airbus aircraft, allowing it to juggle prices and ancillary services across the fleet.

Air France-KLM, formed from a merger of French and Dutch flag carriers in 2004, continues to operate a mixed fleet between its two main national networks.

KLM last month provisionally became the first major European customer for the newly certified E195-E2 offered by A220 rival Embraer of Brazil, whose commercial aerospace arm is being acquired by Boeing.

KLM signed a letter of intent for 15 of the upgraded aircraft and options for another 20.

The Dutch carrier and Franco-Dutch low-cost subsidiary Transavia both operate the Boeing 737 family.


(Additional reporting by Laurence Frost; Editing by Geert de Clercq and Luke Baker)