American Airlines is the second in our airline fleet reviews. The airline today has a fleet based on various mergers, the most recent being US Airways (which had previously merged with America West). This followed a wave of airline consolidation that started some years ago with Delta and Northwest.
The US airline consolidation that took place over the the past decade saw the creation of “mega-carriers”: American Airlines and US Airways, United and Continental Airlines, and Delta-Northwest. At the end of 2016 another merger occurred between Alaska and jetBlue. The outcome of this is that there are now ten large US carriers from 18 a decade ago. With the latest merger the industry now sees four carriers with over 80% of domestic capacity. There are three network carriers (American, United, Delta) plus one formerly ‘low cost’, carrier (Southwest).
Of the mega-carriers, all US-based, American has the largest fleet. The airline is currently undertaking a major fleet renewal. Despite having acquired US Airways (all Airbus), the American mainline fleet is more homogeneous than Delta’s. Post the US Airways merger, American became the world’s largest operator of Airbus aircraft.
But the airline has not always had a simple fleet. The following chart shows American has seemingly tried every aircraft type. The fleet was simpler prior to the US Airways merger.
Another way to look at the the chart above is to streamline the fleet into OEM brands, as seen next. American was once the most important customer for McDonnell Douglas. The chart also shows the impact of the US Airways merger which brought in the current Airbus fleet. American had earlier operated a small fleet of A300s.
As we did when looking at the Delta fleet, we now view the current fleet and orders by seat capacity. American has not released seat maps for the MAX8, A321neo or A350. We expect the two former aircraft will replicate he seating of the current models. We further expect the A350 to seat about 325.
From the table above it’s clear the focus of the fleet renewal is is between 160-200 seats. The MD fleet is being retired rapidly. But this also highlights a renewal gap below 160 seats. The A319s and A320s are still relatively young and could serve another decade – especially if oil prices stay at present levels. But the 56 MDs to be sent to the boneyard leaves an appreciable gap. The most likely to fill this gap are either Bombardier or Embraer. It would be a tough bet to make, but we think the airline might look carefully at range (for the flexibility it provides) and this favors Bombardier.
Going up in size, American used to operate over 70 767s for many years and only dropped below that in 2012. The 767 was clearly a popular aircraft for the airline. Of the 767s, the -300ER was about 80% of the fleet. American has not committed to anything like the 767-300ER. The 787-8 is a far more capable aircraft and is effective in replacing only the longest flights undertaken by the 767. The 787-9 looks like being a replacement for the 777-200ER. But the 777-200ER is likely to serve many more years at American. Besides the A330-200 offers a near one to one in seat capacity with the 777-200ER for Trans Atlantic (especially Heathrow), whereas the 787-9 is useful for Trans Pacific.
Finally the A350-900 comes in the top of the seat range, and would complement the new 777-300ERs. There was a “leak” the aircraft might have 318 seats. The airline pushed back its A350 deliveries to 2018 last summer. The A350 order is holdover from US Airways, and since the management team at American is from US Airways, the order slid to the right rather than be cancelled. While the A350 routes have not been announced, it would likely be Trans Pacific. The A350’s range could open new Asian markets like Singapore. But the airline could also deploy them to the South Pacific from DFW. The A350 is proving to be a crucial part of network reach at Finnair and Qatar. Its capabilities could therefore be the tool to open new markets.
Based the orders it seems the next focus area might be the sub 150-seat segments. If this is the case, the small duopoly is in for a very tough fight. American is familiar with both OEMs from the regional jet business.