Qantas expects to make a decision on which aircraft it will order for the renewal of its domestic narrow-body fleet by the end of this year.

The carrier has entered into the final stages of a formal tender process, with four aircraft types under consideration – the B737 Max, the Airbus A320 neo, the Embraer E-Jet E2, and the Airbus A220.

In total Qantas is expected to order over 100 new aircraft, to replace its current fleet of B737-800s and B717s by 2034.

The carrier plans to place firm orders by mid-2022, with deliveries starting in 2023, although the group said it would “retain significant flexibility to make adjustments depending on market conditions”.

The aircraft under consideration are being evaluated against four “key” criteria: safety, reliability and performance, sustainability and emissions reduction, and commercial terms.

Group CEO Alan Joyce said it was likely that a combination of aircraft types would make up the final order, “as the airline’s network consists of flying between large capital cities as well to smaller cities and regional centres”.

The renewal plans are being referred to as ‘Project Winton’, after the birthplace of Qantas in outback Queensland.

The Qantas Group already has an existing order for 109 Airbus A320 and A321 aircraft, which will predominantly be used to renew subsidiary Jetstar’s fleet.

“All of the next-generation aircraft we’re considering have the potential to drive big improvements in trip cost and overall efficiency, and they’re great platforms for delivering a better premium service to our customers,” said Joyce.

“Not only will these aircraft deliver a step change in reducing fuel burn and carbon emissions by up to around 15 per cent, we’re talking to each of the manufacturers about how we can accelerate the development and use of sustainable aviation fuels for our domestic flying.

“This is a long-term renewal plan with deliveries and payments spread over ten years, starting in FY23, but the equally long lead time means we need to make these decisions soon.

“Covid has had a devastating impact on the aviation industry and there aren’t many airlines around the world in a position to place orders for new aircraft. We still have our own repair work to do, but we know travel demand will rebound quickly and right now we’re in a strong position to secure the best possible deal at very good prices.

“The aircraft we’re considering have been in service for several years, which gives us the confidence that they’ve gone through rigorous troubleshooting by the time they enter our fleet. They’re new, but they are known quantities.

“Our approach is always to have the right aircraft on the right route, which really means balancing the size of the aircraft with the demand in each market. The mix of aircraft we’re considering means we’ll have more operational flexibility, which for customers translates into more direct routes to smaller regional centres and more choice of flights throughout the day.

“At the other end of the spectrum, we’ll be picking up where we left off with our direct flights to London and New York as part of Project Sunrise, which we hope will start operating in 2024/25.”