Airbus didn’t have any orders when it launched the A320 New Engine Option (NEO) program on December 1. Chief Operating Officer John Leahy predicted “hundreds” of orders soon and a 10-year market of 4,000.
We’ve known Leahy for 25 years and while he is prone to hyperbole at time, neither does he make predictions like “hundreds'” of orders idly. Famous for pulling orders out of his sleeve at the last minute, it’s entirely possible he could announce orders this month when Airbus has its annual press conference update for the preceding year.
When he does or doesn’t announce NEO orders at that time, here is how we see NEO orders potential in 2011:
- ILFC: This mega-lessor has 10 A380s on order that it can cancel this year. ILFC has been deferring a decision on cancellation for more than a year while it works out its financial status due to the difficulties imposed by the collapse of its parent, AIG. With things stabilized, I expect ILFC to place aircraft orders. The question of the A380’s future with ILFC is no doubt going to be a part of this. Will the A380 be swapped out for A350 orders or A320/A320neo orders? I’m betting A320neo, and a combination of CFM LEAP-X and Pratt & Whitney GTF engines.
- BOC Aviation: BOCA has become an aggressive lessor and, with backing from its parent, the Bank of China, has virtually unlimited resources compared with BOCA’s competitors. BOCA also finds funding on its own right. Whether BOCA, as a lessor, will choose to buy an interim airplane remains to be seen, but don’t be surprised if it does. We would expect LEAP-X and GTF selections if BOCA does order the airplane.
- GECAS: CFM International is a partner of GE Aviation in the CFM56 market and in development of the LEAP-X. The relationship is so close that GECAS ordered a handful of COMAC C919s, powered by the LEAP-X, in what clearly is a strategic move in relations with China–there is no commercial reason for GECAS to order the C919. Given the familial relations, I fully anticipate GECAS will order the A320neo, and given the corporate policy of only ordering GE engines, the choice will be LEAP-X.
- Qatar Airways has been a public target of a launch order for the A320neo, so look for this order. Qatar has the CFM56 on its current A320 fleet; look for CFM to do what it takes to keep the neo for LEAP-X.
- United Airlines could be a possibility. UAL was planning a single-aisle RFP last year before the merger activities heated up with Continental Airlines. Now that the merger is done, the RFP could be issued this year. UAL has 94 older 757s that need replacing and an A319/A320 fleet that by 2016 will be getting on in years. Airbus will dearly love to replace the 757s with the A321neo and the aging A319/320 fleet with neo models. The questions will be what will the new UAL management, now dominated by Continental execs and previously all-Boeing in preference, do; and will Boeing offer a new airplane with a 2019-2020 EIS? UAL could be a key player to watch in 2011. Engines could go either way. UAL’s A320s are powered by International Aero Engines, of which Pratt & Whitney is a JV partner; Continental’s 737s are powered by CFM.
- Delta Air Lines might also be a neo player this year. Management is some kind of ticked off with Boeing over the 787 and it is dominated by ex-Northwest Airlines execs who ordered Airbus airplanes and like them. The CEO recently had good things to say about the neo. Although Delta is buying up just about every MD-90 it can find on the used airplane market, neo might have an outside chance this year. CFM may have the edge; NWA’s A320s and Delta’s 737s are all CFM56s.
There are also campaigns to watch in Europe and Asia underway for NEO.