Three months after Australia’s about-face in the submarine affair, Airbus has won a major victory in Australia. The airline Qantas has indeed announced its intention to order 134 medium-haul aircraft from Airbus to renew its domestic fleet, 40 A321XLRs and A220-300s, with 94 optional aircraft. Airbus wins both its big American competitor Boeing, which was in the running with its 737 MAX, but also against the Brazilian manufacturer Embraer and its E190-E2 and E195-E2.
This is a “key step” for Qantas, in the words of Alan Joyce, managing director of the Australian group. If all options are confirmed, this will be the largest Australian order in history. It is part of the “Winton” strategic plan, named after the birthplace of Qantas in Queensland. Finalized in October, it plans the ten-year renewal of the domestic fleet of Qantas, the flagship company of the eponymous group.
A fierce competition
According to Qantas, these decisions were taken after a call for tenders based on four criteria: safety, reliability and performance, durability and reduction of emissions, and finally commercial conditions. Alan Joyce spoke of a “very difficult choice to make. Each option met our basic requirements […]. But when you multiply the benefits, however small, in areas such as range or cost, over such a large number of aircraft and over the 20 years that the fleet will last, Airbus has emerged as the preferred bidder.” .
For his part, Christian Scherer, Commercial Director of Airbus, praised “a particularly exciting campaign which pushed the limits of technical, operational and financial evaluation, with a particular emphasis on sustainable development. »
Qantas clarified that “the financial details of the agreement are confidential, but represent a significant discount from list prices”. To this, Alan Joyce added that he had “secured prices just ahead of what is likely to be a surge in demand for the next generation of single-aisle aircraft. »
A flexible fleet between A321 and A220
In detail, the future order includes a firm tranche of 20 A321XLR (“Extra long range”, very long range version of the A321) and 20 A220-300. They will begin replacing the 75 Boeing 737-800s and 20 smaller 717-200s currently in the company’s fleet. The A321s will be powered by PW1100Gs from the American Pratt & Whitney, to the detriment of its Franco-American competitor CFM International (joint venture Safran and GE).
Details of the 94 optional aircraft were not disclosed, but Alan Joyce said: “The agreement with Airbus had the added benefit of providing ongoing flexibility within the order, which means we we can continue to choose between the A320neo and A220 Families as our needs evolve in the years to come. This also includes the A220-100, a shortened version of the A220-300.
An order finalized within a year
In accordance with the forecasts of the Winton plan, the selection of Airbus took place before the end of the year. It must now materialize with the contractualization of a firm order for the first 40 aircraft by the end of 2022 “after discussions with employees on the arrangements to be made to operate the new types of aircraft and a final decision of the board. Directors of Qantas”. Management will have to be convincing as the group has to deal with a net debt valued at 3.6 billion euros at the end of the year. The finalization of the contract will also take longer than expected: two months ago, Qantas was talking about a firm order by mid-2022.
Deliveries will therefore begin in 2024, even if Qantas retains flexibility to adapt to changes in the air transport market. Moreover, the company has also added a few months to its calendar here: it initially spoke of the end of 2023. Deliveries will continue until 2034.
With these orders, the Qantas fleet will become overwhelmingly Airbus. The Australian company will only keep its Boeing 787-9s: 11 are already in the fleet while the last three are due to arrive from 2023.
Qantas is not in unfamiliar territory
It is therefore a strong arrival of the A320 at Qantas. The Australian company was previously a Boeing customer on medium-haul for its own needs. At group level, the situation is different: the low-cost subsidiary Jetstar is a major Airbus operator with more than sixty CEO A320s (Current engine option, original version of the aircraft) in the fleet, while the regional company Qantas Link operates 10 copies.
Similarly, the group is already positioned on the A320 NEO family (“New engine option”, re-engined version of the A320), which includes the A321 XLR. It has orders for 109 aircraft of this family, but mainly intended for Jetstar. This includes 45 A320 NEO, 28 A321 LR (“Long range”, long-range version of the A321) and 36 A321 XLR. Postponed due to the crisis, the first deliveries are scheduled for the second half of 2022.
Alan Joyce has also declared that “the possibility of combining the order from Jetstar and Qantas for the A320 type was also a decisive factor” in the choice of Airbus.