Airbus took two hits today as both Alaska Airlines and United Airlines indicated future fleet changes that are likely to negatively impact the European manufacturer. Neither should come as much of a surprise to industry observers; indeed, most folks have been assuming this outcome for a while now. Still, having it as official from the companies makes things slightly more interesting.
Phasing out in Seattle
For Alaska Airlines the news is that CEO Brad Tilden is now saying he expects that the Airbus fleet acquired along with the rest of Virgin America will likely be phased out. He’s also quoted as saying “This company could not be more in love with Boeing, or loyal to Boeing,” according to the BizJournals.com story.
— Andrew McIntosh (@PSBJaero) July 18, 2017
Putting aside the regional operations that are decidedly not “Proudly all Boeing” this pronouncement is pretty much what everyone has expected from Tilden since the merger was announced. Despite Virgin America’s position as the launch customer for the A321neo and that carrier’s long-term loyalty to the A320 family of aircraft it makes sense economically for Alaska Airlines to focus on either the Boeing 737s or the A320s; keeping both was never really going to happen. With a much larger legacy investment in the 737 line and that local connection to Boeing this is the natural outcome from the merger.
Which is not to say that the planes are going to disappear any time soon. The prior “foreseeable future” still holds as the cost to get rid of the planes quickly hasn’t changed. And, despite growing maintenance costs on the Airbus fleet the carrier cannot simply ditch the planes. It is adjusting into the merger and continues to shift operations and grow in to its larger west coast footprint (mostly with additional E75s operating).
If I were to guess, they won’t be in the fleet permanently…It will take some time to get a transition done
Still, this is the most clear statement the company has made thus far that it will eventually return to being a (mostly) all-Boeing operation.
United (Definitely) Defers
United has now officially deferred the four A350-1000s previously slated for delivery in 2018. Given typical manufacturing lead times this was pretty much when that decision would have to be made public as it affects many suppliers, not just Airbus.
United is not just delaying Airbus deliveries; it is also increasing and accelerating Boeing aircraft acquisitions. Even with the accelerated 747 retirement (the A350s were, at one point, slated to replace those) United is okay on capacity thanks to the new 777-300ERs it recently acquired. Oh, and there will be four more of those in 2018 thanks to the order announced during the Paris Air Show a few weeks back. Plus some other new toys will join the fleet.
With regards to future deliveries, UAL deferred four Airbus A350 aircraft out of 2018 and accelerated 12 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft into 2019 and two 787-10 aircraft within 2019. The company also converted 100 of its current Boeing 737 MAX aircraft orders into Boeing 737 MAX 10 aircraft and expects to take delivery of the aircraft starting in late 2020.
Again, not particularly surprising given the conversations about fleet mix for a while now, plus the likely fire-sale prices the 777-300ERs would come at given Boeing’s need to keep the line running as the 777X moves into manufacturing.
It isn’t all bad news for Airbus this month. Delta took delivery of its first A350 late last week, the first of the type to be based in North America.
— Delta News Hub (@DeltaNewsHub) July 13, 2017
The aircraft is spending a couple extra weeks in France on holiday before it heads to Atlanta, however. Maybe even call it “medical” tourism of a sort, what with the surgery involved. Immediately after delivery the plane was transferred to the Airbus Corporate Jet Center where the Gogo 2Ku kit will be installed. This is a not-quite-linefit-but-pretty-close sort of solution that has Airbus handling the install work, though not on the main A350 production line.
Oh, and Delta has deferred some A350 deliveries as well, though unlike United it seems likely that all the Delta orders will eventually be completed.
Header image: A350-1000 first flight, courtesy of Airbus
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