Cathay Pacific Airways has announced the US$300 million purchase of three long-range Airbus Industrie A340-300s, with a mid-1998 delivery date, in a clear sign it is expanding to capitalise on the new airport opening. Industry observers last night saw the move as a clear sign Cathay was beefing up its fleet to cater for the expanded opportunities expected to be provided by the scheduled opening of Chek Lap Kok Airport in April 1998. Cathay chairman Peter Sutch yesterday hinted the new airport factor was a major influence in favour of the deal. 'With the opening of Chek Lap Kok, we will have more opportunities to add new long-haul frequencies and routes, and we look forward to using these aircraft to exploit them,' he said. A Cathay spokesman said last night the fact Kai Tak Airport had reached flight capacity had limited the airline's ability to expand its fleet until the opening. The second runway at Chek Lap Kok and the lifting of an 11.30 pm curfew meant more Cathay flights would be able to operate than was possible with facilities at Kai Tak, he said. Another partial motivation for the new purchases lay in the replacement of older aircraft. Cathay phases out its last Tristar L-1011 next month as it continues to modernise its fleet. The list price of individual A340-300 aircraft is between $130 million and $140 million, but it is understood Cathay's final purchase price was below this figure. The deal, unveiled at the Farnborough Air Show in Britain by Mr Sutch and Airbus executives, will take the airline's total A340-300 fleet to nine by the end of 1998. Three A340-300s already have been delivered, while the other three ordered prior to yesterday's announcement will have joined the fleet by February next year. The aircraft will be used for non-stop services between Hong Kong, Europe and North America, as well as selected Asian routes. The Airbus models are not the only aircraft being purchased by Cathay to coincide with the Chek Lap Kok opening and the expansion opportunities it provides. The airline already has committed to buying seven Boeing 777-300 aircraft, to be delivered from May 1998 onwards. Currently, the airline's only 777 model is the 777-200 aircraft, but the longer 777-300 aircraft will be used for many of the Cathay's heavily trafficked regional routes, including Taiwan and Japan. The longer model can carry up to 400 passengers. The A340 purchase represents a partial take-up of 16 options Cathay had negotiated when it committed to its original purchase of six of the aircraft. The airline continues to hold the other 13 options on new A340-300 aircraft and will continue to consider taking up more of them as its future needs become more apparent.