Dubai Airshow 2021 has kicked off very modestly compared to previous editions. No mega-deals from the local airlines but nevertheless still a billion-dollar show on Day 1 when Indigo Partners announced an order for 255 Airbus A321neo’s and XLRs. ATR also had to announce a couple of deals. Indigo Partners goes shopping big again.

The press conference at 4 pm local time was a kind of deja-vu to the final day of the 2017 Dubai Airshow. There he was again sitting next to the Airbus Chief Commercial Officer: Bill Franke, president of Indigo Partners. The difference was that he is now four years older at 84 and then-CCO John Leahy was now Christian Scherer. Also there were Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury, Wizz Air CEO Jozsef Varadi, Frontier Airlines CEO Barry Biffle, while attending via Zoom were Volaris-boss Enrique Beltranena, and JetSMART CEO Estuardo Ortiz.

In 2017, Indigo Partners signed an MoU – later confirmed – for a blockbuster 430 A320neo-family aircraft. Today, they ordered ‘only’ 255. 102 for Wizz Air, of which 75 A321neo’s and 27 XLRs, 91 A321neo’s for Frontier, 39 A321neo’s for Volaris, and 23 for JetSMART, including 21 A321neo’s and two XLRs. Both Latin American airlines converted 38 aircraft from their backlog. Deliveries will ‘trickle in’ in the next few years, but the majority will join the airlines between 2025 and 2027 for expansion, and partially for replacement. And they will help reduce the carbon footprint with their 25 percent lower fuel burn and hence lower emissions.

The four airlines of Indigo Partners once again bought Airbus aircraft in big numbers. (Airbus)

For Wizz Air, the 102 new aircraft means the first step of its strategy to grow the fleet from some 170 aircraft now to 500 by the end of the decade. Deliveries are scheduled between 2025-2027, but Wizz has the flexibility to add 19 A321neo’s and 75 purchase rights for delivery between 2028-2029, subject to various confirmations, said Varadi, The 27 XLRs are additional to the 20 already on order by Wizz and that arrive from 2024, bringing the total to 47. An unspecified number will end up with Wizz Air Abu Dhabi and Wizz Air UK, but this plan needs to be confirmed. 

Frontier will likely get the majority of its new A321neo’s from the Mobile-site in Alabama, said Faury: “We try to do as much as we can for the US in the US, but it is a more complex optimization that we are doing. It has to do with the A320 and the A321, the ramp-up of the XLR, the overall order balance, the stability of each site around the world. That’s why we deliver many from the US but not necessarily all.”  

A321neo now sold out until 2026

This latest order means that Airbus is now actually sold out on the A321neo until 2025, another year extra over the previous restriction. It confirms Airbus’ urgency to ramp up production of the A320neo-family to eventually 75 per month in 2024-2025, which should give it the flexibility to keep offering production slots to customers. “ In the production planning, we have all the backlog factored in. We have a ramp-up plan that is supported by the backlog and demand. You see the vast majority of our open slots in the second half of the decade. That is what this order is all about to a very large extent. We like this kind of forward-looking relationship with very large groups because we can then benefit from the time to do the ramp-up, be present on the market, drive the supply chain.”

Christian Scherer wasn’t willing to share the order value: “I haven’t seen the list prices for a long time.” But you can bet that Indigo Partners negotiated a significant price reduction for its four airlines. That’s both an advantage and a disadvantage for Airbus, says Faury: “I think it is fair to say that there are not that many players like Indigo Partners, capable of grouping orders like this. We really like the relationship we developed over the years with the airlines of Indigo Partners. This gives them some negotiation power, but it also gives us access to the four airlines and maintains a successful long-term relationship with them. We really like the way how we can develop the business together.”

Unconfirmed reports from The Air Current said today that Air Lease Corporation (ALC) will be one of the launch customers for the A350 Freighter.

ATR sells seven 72-600s

The other airframer from Toulouse, ATR, also announced some sales. Binter Canarias ordered four 72-600s plus one option as the final step to replace its 72-500s. The new order brings the fleet to 23 aircraft to form the backbone of its network on the Canary Islands.
“This deal for five aircraft represents a significant investment but it will ensure that the many benefits, such as supporting local businesses and facilitating easier transport for locals and tourists alike, will continue”, Binter President Rodolfo Nunez said.

Rumanian airline TAROM ordered three 72-600s as part of its fleet renewal plan that has been ongoing since 2019. Like Binter, TAROM replaces its -500s with the newer version that includes the Armonia cabin.

Boeing opens up three BCF lines

Boeing didn’t make any new order announcements but said that it will open three new conversion 737-800BCF lines for passenger to freighter aircraft programs. One will be opened next year at Boeing’s London Gatwick maintenance base, two in 2023 at KF Aerospace in Kelowna (Canada). The opening confirms the huge demand for the conversion of older-generation passenger airliners to full freighters. Boeing also announced an order for eleven 737-800BCFs for Icelease, becoming the first customer for the Gatwick base.  

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