Air­bus may beat Boe­ing to mar­ket with new plane

Gulf Times Business - - BUSINESS -

Air­bus SE could build a longer-range ver­sion of its newest nar­row­body jet by 2023, ac­cord­ing to prospec­tive buyer Air Transat, beat­ing a com­pet­ing Boe­ing Co model to the mar­ket.

The Cana­dian car­rier’s pres­i­dent, Jean-Fran­cois Le­may, has been briefed by Air­bus on its think­ing re­gard­ing ser­vice en­try for the pro­posed air­craft, as well as by leas­ing firm AerCap Hold­ings NV, the big­gest sup­plier to its fleet, he said in an in­ter­view in Lon­don.

A devel­op­ment of the ex­ist­ing A321­neo known as the XLR for ex­tra-long range, the Air­bus plane is un­der con­sid­er­a­tion as Boe­ing mulls a launch de­ci­sion for a fam­ily of midrange jets with the work­ing ti­tle New Mid-Mar­ket Air­craft, or NMA. That model is a wholly new de­sign and wouldn’t reach air­lines un­til about 2025, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer Den­nis Muilen­burg said on a July earn­ings call.

“We’re a nat­u­ral buyer for the XLR,” Le­may said on Thurs­day, adding that the cur­rent LR — or long-range ver­sion — of the A321­neo that will join its fleet from next year has the ca­pa­bil­ity to reach Bri­tain, France, Spain and Por­tu­gal from Canada, but won’t be able to serve Euro­pean lo­ca­tions fur­ther east.

Air­bus hasn’t yet in­di­cated a ser­vice-en­try date for a new plane. Asked about the 2023 tim­ing, a com­pany spokesman said that “it’s no se­cret the A321 still has lots of po­ten­tial.”

Le­may also gave some insight into the likely range of the air­craft, say­ing it would eas­ily reach des­ti­na­tions such as Split in Croa­tia, which Air Transat plans to serve from 2019. The route will ini­tially use the car­rier’s fleet of Air­bus A330 wide­bod­ies as it’s be­yond the reach of the A321­neoLR, he said.

The A321­neo is al­ready nib­bling away at the bot­tom end of the 220-to-270-seat mar­ket Boe­ing is tar­get­ing for the NMA, with the LR vari­ant rack­ing up or­ders from car­ri­ers like Air Transat that see it as the best prospect to re­place the US firm’s out-of-pro­duc­tion 757 and the 767 on some transAt­lantic routes.

Le­may said he’s braced for a lag of four to six weeks in the de­liv­ery of Air Transat’s first LR, sched­uled for Fe­bru­ary, as Air­bus grap­ples with de­lays prompted by faults af­flict­ing the model’s en­gines. A sec­ond jet is due in March but the slip­page won’t be prob­lem­atic so long as both are avail­able by the time the peak sum­mer timetable kicks in June, he said.

Air Transat isn’t in the mar­ket for the NMA — also dubbed the 797 — since it’s mov­ing to an all-Air­bus fleet, Le­may said, with a to­tal of 15 A321 LRs set to al­low the re­tire­ment of five Boe­ing 737s, as well as older Air­bus A310s. Op­er­at­ing air­craft that all its pilots can fly will help save as much as C$15mn ($12mn), he said.

The ex­ec­u­tive pre­dicted that trans-At­lantic fly­ing will be­come in­creas­ingly nar­row­body dom­i­nated as car­ri­ers from Nor­we­gian Air Shut­tle ASA to IAG SA’s Aer Lin­gus embrace the po­ten­tial of smaller planes with longer ranges.

The mar­ket is vi­tal for Air Transat, he said, gen­er­at­ing 90% of rev­enue dur­ing the sum­mer lull in travel from Canada to the Caribbean, a flow that’s busier in win­ter when it accounts for 85% of sales. With the A321 LR — and po­ten­tially the XLR — the car­rier will have planes per­fectly suited to both mar­kets for the first time, Le­may said.

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