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Resurgent Airlines Commit to 400 New Jets at Dubai Airshow

Edward Russell
November 16th, 2021 at 12:27 PM EST

From Indian startup Akasa Air to discount airline investor Indigo Partners, airlines have splashed out with commitments for almost 400 new aircraft at the Dubai Airshow.

“Our industry is very resilient,” said Airbus Commercial Chief and Head of Airbus International Christian Scherer on aircraft demand at the outset of the airshow. The airframer has racked up the bulk of airline commitments — some 303 aircraft so far — in Dubai. This tally does not include the 111 aircraft — including the newly launched A350 freighter — ordered by lessor Air Lease Corporation. The headline deal came from Indigo for 255 A321neos that will be split among its four budget airlines: Frontier Airlines, JetSmart, Volaris, and Wizz Air.

But Boeing is holding its own at the show. The Chicago-based planemaker landed an order from Indian startup Akasa Air for 72 737 Maxes — split between the 737-8 and high-density -8200. Akasa plans to begin flights next summer and is led by former Jet Airways CEO Vinay Dube and backed by Indian businessman Rakesh Jhunjhunwala. The Akasa order comes nearly three months after India’s aviation regulator, which had been one of a few notable global holdouts along with China and Russia, recertified the Max at the end of August.

“We booked about 309 orders net this year — 720 gross — that’s a pretty good start,” Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Stan Deal told CNBC at the start of the airshow. “Those discussions are continuing at this airshow and the year’s not over. We expect more orders before the year’s end.”

Deal’s optimism came even as the airframer faces supply chain and other challenges ramping up its Max line from the grounding that ended a year ago. At the same time, deliveries of Boeing’s marquee widebody 787 remain halted amid production quality issues, and the first delivery of its next new aircraft — the 777X, which was launched at the Dubai Airshow in 2013 — is delayed to at least the end of 2023.

The rash of orders from Dubai is a remarkable upswing for a normally sleepy, regionally oriented airshow. Most marquee aircraft deals come at the big biennial Farnborough and Paris airshows, which were cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to the the Covid-19 pandemic. The uptick in Dubai appears to give truth to the cliché “pent-up demand” that airline executives bandy about when they speak of the recovery, but, in this case, for new metal.

The biggest, and arguably most notable, deal at the show was the order from Indigo. The 255 A321neo deal has, as Scherer told Air Transport World, effectively sold out all of its available delivery slots for the popular narrowbody jet for the foreseeable future. Airbus has plans to raise A320-family production rates to 64 aircraft a month from 43 by 2023, and potentially to 75 aircraft a month by 2025 to meet its backlog for new planes.

The deal will allow Indigo-owned airline Wizz, for one, to realize its ambitious growth targets. Wizz will take 102 aircraft — 75 A321neos and 27 A321XLRs — from the Indigo order, raising its firm orderbook to 335 planes. The airline also has options for another 19 A321neos and purchase rights for a further 75 of the jets. Wizz CEO József Váradi aims to double the size of the airline in five years, and grow it to roughly 500 aircraft by the end of the decade in a move that could make it the second largest European discounter after Ryanair.

“Wizz Air is an ambitious airline with a strategy that seeks to grow the company,” said Váradi at the airshow. He cited “very attractive terms” for the order that — to paraphrase — catapults Wizz “towards our aim of being a 500 aircraft group.”

Denver-based Frontier picked up 91 A321neos. Santiago, Chile-based JetSmart will receive 21 A321neos and two A321XLRs that will be used to grow under a new partnership and equity investment from American Airlines. And Mexico City-based Volaris will take 39 A321neos.

ATR and Embraer also received commitments in Dubai. ATR took 11 orders for its ATR 72-600 turboprop, and signed a letter of intent with Japanese regional startup Toki Air to eventually operate ATR 42 aircraft. And Embraer received an order from Nigeria-based Overland Airways for three Embraer E175s plus purchase rights for another three aircraft.

A rundown of orders in Dubai, as of November 16:

  • Afrijet: 3 ATR 72-600s
  • Air Corsica: 5 ATR 72-600s
  • ALC: 55 A321neos, 25 A220-300s, 20 A321XLRs, 7 A350Fs, and 4 A330neos
  • Air Tanzania: 2 737 Maxes, 1 767F, and 1 787-8
  • Akasa Air: 72 737 Maxes
  • Emirates: 2 777Fs
  • Ibom Air: 10 Airbus A220s
  • Indigo Parters: 255 A321neos for Frontier, JetSmart, Volaris, and Wizz
  • Jazeera Airways: 20 A320neos and 8 A321neos, memorandum of understanding
  • Overland Airways: 3 E175s, plus 3 purchase rights
  • Tarom: 3 ATR 72-600s
Edward Russell
November 16th, 2021 at 12:27 PM EST

Photo credit: Airlines have committed to almost 400 new aircraft at the Dubai Airshow this year. Airbus

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