Australian Carriers Defer International Fleet Decisions

By Adrian Schofield
Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology
February 03, 2014
Credit: Adrian Schofield/Aviation Week

While Air New Zealand is preparing to ratchet up its long-haul fleet modernization efforts with new aircraft deliveries, there likely will be very few new widebodies entering the fleets of Australia's full-service carriers in the next 2-3 years.

This year is a significant one for Air New Zealand, which is due to take delivery of its first three Boeing 787-9s as the launch customer for this variant. Across the Tasman Sea, Virgin Australia has one more Airbus A330 to be delivered, and after that has no more twin-aisle orders in place. Qantas, meanwhile, has had to defer A380 deliveries and shelve plans to add 787-9s to its fleet, and its latest financial woes may make new widebody aircraft an even more distant prospect.

Both Virgin Australia and the Qantas mainline operation intend to order next-generation aircraft such as the 787 or the Airbus A350, but they are in no rush to make a decision on firm orders. The main difference between them and Air New Zealand is financial health—while the Kiwi carrier is continuing to record strong profits, the Australian duo are struggling, partly due to their fierce battle for the domestic market.

The Qantas group does have a firm order for 14 787-8s, but these are all destined for its Jetstar low-cost subsidiary. It also placed an order for 35 787-9s for its mainline operation, but in 2012 it canceled these while retaining 50 purchase rights and options.

The 787-9 options are for delivery slots beginning in 2016. The airline has stated it will start converting these to firm orders only if its international unit returns to profitability as planned in 2015.

Qantas has similarly pushed back its remaining orders for A380s. It has 12 in operation, and another eight yet to arrive. The carrier has twice deferred delivery dates for these remaining orders in the past few years, most recently in an effort to cut capital spending. Deliveries of the A380s are now due to resume in 2017, which would mean a gap of more than five years since it last received that type.

Until then, the major change to its widebody fleet will be the transfer of A330-200s from Jetstar as the LCC takes delivery of its 787s. Qantas has received one of these A330s, two more are due in the first quarter, and the remaining seven will be transferred by the middle of 2015. The A330s will replace Qantas Boeing 767-300ERs.

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