The US airline industry is in the midst of a significant fleet update – the pandemic was too good a crisis to waste. The shock to the industry may have caused chaos but fleet planners had a chance to hit the reset button. The industry is not likely to look the way it was in 2019.
Single Aisle Fleet
In terms of single aisles, we are likely to see smaller aircraft flying longer distances. Obviously, the A321neo and LR are among those. But so is the A220 and so are the various MAXs. Airlines are going to exploit these fleets to push them as far as they can go. Given low traffic volume, and the need to preserve cash, producing the cheapest seat is job #1. Fortunately the US airline industry was in the midst of a single-aisle refresh and can make use of the latest models. These aircraft can accomplish many missions to Latin American markets, reach anywhere in Canada and handle quite a few EU markets.
Twin Aisle Fleet
The twin aisles may be tougher to work with. Many older models have been parked, and may not come back into service. Given the paucity of overseas travel, any markets that do open are going to be small and could see single-aisles first. Iceland is an example.
But there are other markets like Greece that require a long haul aircraft and that would be twin-aisle. The 767s could get there from the US East Coast – but many of these aircraft are aging and have better futures as freighters. The older A330s can also do the job, but may not be economically attractive. The newer 787s and A330neos are better for this, and fortunately, the US airlines have these to deploy. Delta recently announced its acceleration of A330neo and A350 deliveries. Because international markets are likely to open slowly, fleet planners can calibrate under less pressure.
Here is a data model that shows how the pandemic has caused US airline fleets to move from a predictable growth path to responding to the near stopping of travel. Perhaps the best example is to watch the average seat count change on the 777-200 in 2020. Page one of the model is for the US majors and page two is for the regionals.
Remember to click the double arrow at the bottom right of the model to optimize your view of the model.