The next several decades of flying will see a lot of Airbus planes in the skies over Australia. Qantas announced its intention today to renew its single-aisle fleet with a mix of up to 134 A220 and A320neo family aircraft. These new orders and options – still to be finalized – come on top of a significant existing order book for its JetStar brand. The total backlog for the company is listed at 299 aircraft for the decade ahead.
This is a clear sign of our confidence in the future and we’ve locked in pricing just ahead of what’s likely to be a big uptick in demand for next-generation narrow-body aircraft. That’s good news for our customers, our people and our shareholders.– Qantas CEO Alan Joyce
The agreement covers 134 firm orders and options, with deliveries beginning in FY2024 and extending for a decade. Details on the first 40 aircraft from the order, split 20/20 between the A321XLR and A220-300, are expected to be finalized by the end of FY2022. The order still requires approval from the Qantas Board of Directors, as well as an agreement with employee unions regarding operating the types.
These aircraft will replace the 737-800 and 717 currently flying for the company.
CEO Alan Joyce was clear that flexibility from Airbus in terms of specific aircraft models to be delivered was a key factor in the decision. “We can continue to choose between the entire A320neo and A220 families depending on our changing needs in the years ahead,” he explained. “The ability to combine the Jetstar and Qantas order for the A320 type was also a factor.”
Joyce also called out a “next-generation cabin” coming to these planes with improvements for passengers. Details are expected in the months ahead.
Choosing the A321XLR for the first tranche of deliveries raises some questions about the carrier’s intent in terms of routes served. The type is optimized for increased range, including an additional fuel tank on board. That makes it heavier and more expensive to operate than a typical A321neo on short-haul, trunk routes such as the Sydney-Brisbane-Melbourne triangle. Yet that is the market the company identified in its release as a launch pad for these new planes.
The XLR can carry around 15 per cent more passengers on each flight than the airline’s existing B737-800s, making it well suited to busy routes between capital cities like Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.
That also suggests a 200-seat configuration far more than most airlines are considering for the XLR when planning to operate it on truly long-haul routes.
Qantas has the flexibility to swap the specific A320neo family aircraft type around, so maybe these won’t be XLRs to start. Or maybe the company is waiting to negotiate with pilots and flight attendants on work rules that would enable the longer routes before starting to make those choices. But if the XLRs end up mostly flying that triangle of routes that would be a very interesting fleet planning choice.
Both types will be powered by Pratt & Whitney GTF engines, offering a double-digit reduction in fuel burn compared to prior generation aircraft.
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