Virgin airline may court Boeing model

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The Independent Online

Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic Airways is considering cancelling a valuable aircraft order with Airbus in favour of the new Boeing 777-300

The deal could see Virgin become a launch customer for the new Boeing model with the subsequent cancellation of eight options for the Airbus A340-600 . The list price of the Boeing 777 is around $200m, putting the value of the deal at around $1.6bn. Virgin is launch customer for the Rolls-Royce Trent-powered A340-600 with 10 on firm order, but according to industry sources has pitched the eight A340-600 options it holds against an offer from Boeing for the similarly sized 300ER.

The options were taken as part of Virgin's 1997 order and are slated to cover expansion and to replace some of the airline's nine Boeing 747-200 Classics and possibly its A340-300s.

Virgin's talks with Boeing, revealed in the magazine Flight Internationaltoday, could be a way of leveraging more concessions out of Airbus. But itcould result in a major coup for Boeing, which has long held ambitions tosell the twinjet to the UK airline. It would also be a major blow to Airbusand Rolls-Royce.

Virgin says it operates a mix of Airbus and Boeing types, and is "always reviewing its fleet options". It confirms it has "received some interesting and attractive offers from both manufacturers in recent months".