Airbus delivered the first A330-900 to launch operator TAP Air Portugal Nov. 26, kicking off a major fleet replacement for the airline.

The A330neo was handed over to the Portuguese flag carrier during a ceremony in Toulouse, France. The new aircraft is scheduled to enter service between Lisbon and Sao Paolo, Brazil, in December.

TAP, which expects to receive two more A330neos this year, has 10 of the widebodies on firm order and will lease another 11. The airline plans to have 15 A330neos in service by May 2019 and 19 by 2020, CEO Antonoaldo Neves told ATW on the sidelines of the delivery ceremony.

As part of TAP’s fleet replacement plan, the Star Alliance member expects to receive 37 new aircraft next year, including four A321LRs and several A320neos, Neves said.

“It is amazing. This number is out of about 90 aircraft that we have. This is a major re-fleet that we are doing,” he said. “Our capacity will not be growing that much—we add a little bit extra-capacity. By year-end [of 2019] more the 70% of our block hours will be done on new aircraft.”

“Ninety percent of all the new aircraft will be for fleet replacement,” Neves said, adding that he anticipated a significant fuel savings as a result. “Just an example, we expect to achieve above 18% less fuel burn with our A320neo, compared to our A320ceo,” he said.

TAP’s first -900s will replace older A330s.

“In terms of average fleet age, we are going down from about a 15-year-old fleet years ago to about seven years old” by the end of 2019, Neves said.

Also in 2019, TAP plans to add new US destinations, including San Francisco (SFO), Chicago O’Hare (ORD) and Washington Dulles (IAD).

TAP operates an all-Airbus fleet of 72 aircraft—50 A320 family, 18 A330s and four A340s. Including regional subsidiary TAP Express, the fleet reaches about 90 aircraft.

Kurt Hofmann, hofmann.aviation@netway.at