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Hawaiian Air looks to buy Airbus jets for up to $2.8 billion

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Hawaiian Airlines said on Monday it plans to buy Airbus A321neo planes in an order valued at up to $2.8 billion, a move that puts Airbus ahead of Boeing as the airline's main supplier of jets that fly between Hawaii and the U.S. West Coast.

Hawaiian Holdings , the carrier's parent, said it signed a tentative agreement with Airbus to buy 16 jets with options for nine more. The deliveries are scheduled for between 2017 and 2020.

Airbus has now won Hawaiian's last three competitions, supplying A330s, A350s and now the A321neo.

Boeing declined to comment.

The Airbus neo is a family of single-aisle planes that will be equipped with new engines for better fuel savings. The A321neo, which seats about 190 people, will be used on routes to the U.S. West Coast, the carrier said.

The new jets fit the strategy of Hawaiian Airlines' CEO Mark Dunkerley of providing more connections to mainland U.S. cities, using fuel-efficient single-aisle planes instead of the wide-body Boeing 767 jets that now fly the routes.

"With its slightly smaller size, we'll be able to open new markets that are not viable for wide-body service, while also being able to augment service on existing routes to the West Coast of North America," Dunkerley said in a statement.

The purchases are contingent on the airline signing agreements with unions representing its flight attendants and pilots to operate the new type of aircraft.

Given the timing of the announcement, the deal is not expected to be included in Airbus' end-year tally for 2012 to be announced next week.

Airbus looks set to announce 900 orders for 2012. Confirming a report in French newspaper La Tribune, industry sources say it delivered 588 aircraft in 2012.

Hawaiian's current 43-jet fleet is dominated by Boeing 767 and 717 jets, but includes nine Airbus A330s.

The airline has ordered 13 more A330s and six A350XWB-800s. It plans to phase out its fleet of 16 Boeing 767s over the next decade.

(Reporting by Alwyn Scott and Tim Hepher; additional reporting by Karen Jacobs; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

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