Lion Group, the Indonesian-based airline conglomerate, is in talks with Boeing to accelerate deliveries of 737-800/900ERs from 2016 onward as it seeks to capitalize on the rapid expansion of its main airline operation, Lion Air, as well as its swiftly growing regional affiliates.
The operator, which marked the delivery of its 100th Next Generation 737 on Nov. 4 at Boeing Field in Seattle, has more than 300 737s still in the order backlog. This includes 230 twinjets ordered in February 2012—of which 201 are 737 MAXes—making the Indonesian operator the largest single customer in Boeing’s 4,780-plus aircraft delivery backlog.
“I just spoke to Boeing about whether we could accelerate deliveries,” Lion Group President Director Rusdi Kirana said during the delivery ceremony. The group expects to receive 30 Boeing aircraft in 2014 and 32 in 2015, and together with some initial Airbus A320-family aircraft ordered as part of an equally large contract unveiled in March, should see overall fleet deliveries of 36 aircraft per year over the next two years.
Kirana added that given Boeing’s existing commitments, he does not hold out much hope of securing earlier deliveries until 2016. However, in response to record demand for both the current 737 and MAX versions, Boeing last week announced plans to increase monthly production of 737s from 42 per month—a level it will reach in the first half of 2014—to 47 per month in 2017, when the first MAX is due to enter service.
Lion Air, which became the launch customer for the 737-900ER in 2005, currently operates 67 737-900ERs and 19 737-800s. The group’s other 737s are allocated to its Indonesian full-service carrier Batik Air, which flies four 737-900ERs, and overseas affiliates Malindo Air in Malaysia (which has six -900ERs) and Thai Lion Air, a new carrier based in Bangkok, which has two -900ERs.
The Thai airline is currently flying route-proving services as it enters the final phase of evaluation for approval for its air operator’s certificate from the Thai Department of Civil Aviation. Lion expects the new carrier to begin service in December.
For future expansion, Lion is studying additional affiliates in the Asia-Pacific region, including Australia, which Kirana describes as “a priority.”
Providing additional clarity about the delivery priority in the Lion Air MAX order, Beverly Wyse, Boeing’s vice president and general manager for the 737 program said, “Lion Air is the 737-9 [MAX] launch customer and will be the first to fly the MAX in Asia.”