Turkish 777-300ER, Boeing photo.

Yet another carrier with ambitions to fly to Australia, Turkish Airlines, has firmed up on an order for more of the jet Qantas derided as old technology, the Boeing 777, underlining the flawed fleet planning that is part of the Australian flag carrier’s continuing problems.

While it has to be acknowledged that Turkish recently backed away from a quick decision on flights to Sydney or Melbourne because of the approvals pending Qantas-Emirates partnership, it remains interested, and as the latest Boeing order underlines, in expanding its global reach as its economic growth changes the face of the nation.

This is the Boeing statement, which while beating its own drum, also provides a handy overview of the size of an airline many Australians might not be familiar with.

ISTANBUL, Dec. 10, 2012 — Boeing [NYSE: BA] and Turkish Airlines have finalised a firm order for 15 777-300ER (Extended Range) aircraft worth US$4.7 billion at list prices. The agreement, first announced in October as a commitment, also includes options for five additional 777-300ERs and is the largest order by value in Turkish Airlines’ history.

Turkish Airlines’ fleet currently includes 12 777-300ERs, the first of which Boeing delivered in October 2010. Over the past two years, these airplanes have formed the backbone of Turkish Airlines’ long-haul operations. This latest order will enable the Turkish flag-carrier to continue to serve new destinations worldwide.

“This latest order from Turkish Airlines is testament to the key role the 777 has played in the carrier’s long-haul route expansion,” said Todd Nelp, vice president of European Sales, Boeing Commercial Airplanes. “In recent years, Turkish Airlines has been incredibly successful in providing its passengers with outstanding service to a growing range of international destinations. The exceptional performance of the 777-300ER, with its excellent fuel economics, reliability and passenger comfort, has been a cornerstone for Turkish Airlines’ continued growth.”

The 777-300ER seats up to 386 passengers in a three-class configuration and has a maximum range of 7,930 nautical miles (14,685 km).

Turkish Airlines currently operates a fleet that includes nearly 100 Boeing aircraft and serves more than 200 destinations across 90 countries worldwide.

A flight between Istanbul and Sydney would be very much at current limits of the profitable payload/range combinations for a 777-300ER, while for a -200LR, it would be a cinch, with both strong passenger and freight uplifts.

Airlines that use the current series 777s to great effect in the Australian market include Air New Zealand, Emirates, Singapore Airlines and Virgin Australia.  Cathay Pacific, which is a major user of the Airbus A333 and various current or older versions of the 777, uses the Boeing to provide longer range connections over Hong Kong from Australia services flown by the Airbus, which is optimised for the flight stage lengths between here and Hong Kong.

And Emirates and Singapore Airlines have the world’s first and second largest Airbus A380 fleets respectively, as well as making significant use of A330s which each carrier intends to replace with Airbus A350s in full or part, later this decade.

The point about the 777 is that it is incredibly efficient at ranges that are longer than those available with current A333s, but for which the super sized passenger lift performed by the A380 isn’t yet needed.

Qantas has relied on 747-400s for routes that if flown by 777s would have saved it substantial sums in fuel and maintenance, and presented it with expanded freight earning opportunities and allowed for full payload operations on routes where the larger seat count 747s couldn’t utilise all of them because of operational restrictions on longer routes.

This is not a case of yet another armchair CEO offering gratuitous advice, just a simple recitation of the facts, and they are facts that have cost Qantas a fortune in the past decade, and will leave it vulnerable to competitors, and even allies, in the future.

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