Qantas Orders up to 188 New Planes From Boeing and Airbus as Part of Asia Expansion

SYDNEY, Australia_Qantas Airways Ltd. said Wednesday it has ordered up to 188 new planes from Boeing Co. and Airbus to support its short-haul growth plans in Australia and Asia.

The order includes 68 A320 or the larger A321 aircraft, and 31 Boeing 737-800 aircraft. The Australian national carrier has also taken out an additional 40 options and purchase rights over the Airbus aircraft and 49 for the 737.

The purchase price of the planes wasn't disclosed.

Chairwoman Margaret Jackson told shareholders at the airline's annual meeting in Melbourne that the new order will take the company's total aircraft order book to nearly 35 billion Australian dollars (US$31 billion; €21 billion) at list prices.

In August, Qantas is due to receive the first of 20 Airbus A380 superjumbos it has ordered to operate on major international routes.

Singapore Airlines brought the A380 from Singapore to Sydney last month in its maiden passenger flight.

Qantas' low-fares subsidiary, Jetstar, will also start receiving in early 2009 the first 15 of 65 Boeing 787 "Dreamliner" aircrafts it has ordered for long-term routes.

"This decision, together with existing A380 and B787 fleet commitments, secures an order stream for next generation aircraft that will allow the group to meet long-term demand growth and replace older aircraft over the next decade," Chief Executive Geoff Dixon said.

The new aircraft will be used to defend the group's 65 percent share of the Australian domestic market, 33 percent of international routes into Australia, and to expand its low-cost services to Southeast Asia, Dixon said.

Dixon said the Airbus order for up to 108 aircraft will provide, "aggressive growth for Jetstar and enable it to establish new international bases in Darwin and Perth," to better serve nearby South East Asian markets.

Qantas' order is "a big signal to both Virgin Blue and Tiger and any other prospective entrants that it will take no prisoners" in defending its market share, said Derek Sadubin, an analyst at the consultancy Center for Asia Pacific Aviation.

Virgin Blue is Qantas' main domestic rival.

Dixon said some of the aircraft will be used to supply capacity to the group's Asian associate airlines, which include its 45 percent-owned, Singapore-based budget carrier Jetstar Asia and Vietnam's Pacific Airlines, in which Qantas finalized an 18 percent holding in July.

Qantas expects to receive the first of at least 17 A321 aircraft in February, with the B737s expected to be delivered from early 2009.

Dixon also reiterated the airline's earnings guidance for the fiscal year, saying it was targeting 30 percent growth in pretax profit, up from A$1.03 billion (US$915 million; €623 million) last fiscal year.

Qantas shares closed slightly down at A$5.77.