John Leahy is a happy man; may not be as happy as in 2007, but surely the orders received for the Airbus A320 and A350 families at this year’s Paris air show, must give him a cautious sense of optimism.
Airbus SAS is expected to walk away from Le Bourget with about orders for 110 new planes or commitments worth around $6.5 billion. By comparison, Boeing logged just one order at the show, a $153 million deal with MC Aviation Partners, a leasing subsidiary of Mitsubishi, for two 737-800s which will be leased to Japanese low cost carrier Skymark Airlines Inc.
Interestingly all the orders for Airbus are from the A320 single aisle family and the upcoming A350 medium sized wide body family, also all the orders are from smaller global airlines or low cost regional airlines. Clearly, while the global economy and longer distance travel is still to recover, the absolute panic gripping the industry just six months ago has subsided. The smaller, newer, and cost competitive airlines are betting on the future and getting ahead in the order queue.
Chronologically, the orders won by Airbus are:
On June 15th, Doha based Qatar Airways ordered 24 A320 family aircraft. 20 A320s and 4 A321s.
June 16th was a lucrative one for Airbus. First, a private Asian customer ordered an Airbus A320 Prestige which is based on the A320 airliner, but meant for private/business jet use, featuring a customised cabin, extra fuel-tanks for intercontinental range, and other features preferred by this up-scale market segment.
Next, Manila, Philippines based low cost carrier, Cebu Pacific increased its existing A320 aircraft order by five aircraft taking the total order to 15. Scheduled for delivery from 2013, the new aircraft will join Cebu Pacific’s existing fleet of 21 A319 and A320 aircraft. The initial batch of 10 aircraft is scheduled for delivery between 2010 and 2013. The carrier has now placed firm orders for 27 A320 Family aircraft, with 12 already delivered.
This was soon followed by an announcement that state owned Vietnam Airlines had placed a firm order with Airbus for 16 more single aisle A321s and signed a Memorandum of Understanding for two additional A350 XWBs. The A321 is the largest member of the Airbus A320 family, typically seating 185 passengers in a two-class layout. This contract increases the total number of orders placed by Vietnam Airlines for A321 to 41, of which 14 have already been delivered. The commitment for the A350-900 variant came in addition to an existing firm order for ten aircraft placed in December 2007.
Air Asia X, the long haul airline of Malaysia’s wildly successful low cost carrier Air Asia, closed out the day by announcing it had placed a firm order with Airbus for 10 A350 XWB aircraft. The airline will use the aircraft on a network linking its Asian hub in Kuala Lumpur with destinations worldwide, especially in Europe and Australia. AirAsia X has selected the A350-900 variant for its fleet, which will be configured to seat more than 400 passengers in a two-class layout. Airbus has raised its tally of firm orders for the A350 XWB to 493 from 31 customers worldwide, though they still trail the A350 competitor, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner by an almost 2 to 1 margin.
After the four announcements on the preceding day, June 17th, was a relative quiet one. French private airline Aigle Azur placed an order for a solitary new A319 aircraft. The new A319 will be configured in a comfortable two-class layout and will be powered by CFM-56 engines from CFM International. Aigle Azur currently operates a fleet of ten A320 Family aircraft, comprising three A319s, three A320s and four A321s, but this is the first time the airline has purchased an aircraft directly from Airbus. Founded in 1946, Aigle Azur is the oldest private French airline. The company became an Airbus operator in 2003 and has operated an all-Airbus fleet since 2005.
On June 18th came one of the biggest announcements of the show. Hungary’s Wizz Air, the largest low cost carrier in Central and Eastern European, signed a Memorandum of Understanding to buy 50 more A320s, to take their total orders up to 132 aircraft. All Wizz Air aircraft will be configured in single-class 180 passenger layout. No choice of engine has been made yet. Wizz Air supported by lead investor Indigo Partners has developed into a formidable success story, and has an extensive network established at 11 operating bases, in Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine and Czech Republic, with 130 routes, and a fleet of 24 A320s.
Just when I was getting ready to close this article, along came the news that Chennai, India based Paramount Airways, has signed a memorandum of understanding to buy ten A321 aircraft with an option for an additional ten. Paramount is a niche player in Indian aviation, currently has an all Embraer E170 fleet. Commencing from small beginnings, Paramount offers a business class experience at economy class prices. It has consistently logged the highest passenger load factors in India (typically 88% and above) and has steadily gained market share. From it’s regional start in South India, it has now expanded services to the North and East of India. The A321s will be used to commence international services to the regional destinations of south and south east Asia, and the middle east.
As a footnote, Delhi based IndiGo airlines will receive it’s next Airbus A320-232 VT-INZ, part of it’s mega 100 A320 order, by June 27th.