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Air France-KLM Approaches Airbus And Boeing For 160 New Aircraft

The Air France-KLM Group has issued a tender to both Airbus and Boeing for up to 160 new short and medium-haul aircraft. The Group CEO Ben Smith told local publications that this would be the largest order in the Group’s history, and would be used to renew and extend the fleets of KLM and Transavia.

Airlines start shopping again

It seems airlines are getting back into the shopping mood, as attention turns from mitigating the crisis to preparing for a better future ahead. Following United’s blockbuster order for narrowbody aircraft replacements recently, now Air France-KLM is touting around for its future aircraft requirements.

Reporting in Reuters suggests that the Group is seeking as many as 160 aircraft for its short and medium hall needs, both for the KLM branch of the group and for the low-cost subsidiary Transavia. The Group has tendered to both Airbus and Boeing for options, with a view to ‘renewing and extending’ the fleets.

The order was revealed after CEO Ben Smith was quoted as saying that the Group had approached Airbus and Boeing for around 160 new jets. Speaking in an interview to Het Financieele Dagblad, he said,

“We’ve done a little bit in this area, it’s been on the agenda since 2004, but it’s never been put in place as it is now. I am very pleased to be able to put together this order, the largest in the group’s history.”

The aircraft on the table have not been revealed, but it’s likely that both manufacturers will come back with proposals including their latest generation narrowbody jets. The newest narrowbodies have proven their worth on ever longer routes, and are likely to be preferable to small widebodies both in terms of purchase price and operating costs.

A split order, or all eggs in one basket?

KLM is very much a Boeing airline. Despite placing an order for A350s in the past, in the end, these were transferred to Air France to operate. Similarly, Air France’s reaming Dreamliner orders have been shifted across to the Dutch airline. Its current narrowbody fleet is made up of Boeing 737s, all NG variants, with average fleet ages from just over 10 years for the -700s up to almost 20 years for the -900s.

The two Transavias, Transavia France and Transavia Airlines (Netherlands), are also Boeing narrowbody operators. Transavia France operates 50 737-800s, with an average fleet age of 8.9 years, according to Transavia Netherlands has 39 narrowbodies, mostly 737-800s along with four smaller 737-700s. These are aged around 10.6 years for the -800s, although the -700s are much older, averaging 18.3 years across the fleet.

The natural order sway would go to Boeing, for the 737 MAX aircraft. These would be the logical successors for the NGs, having commonality with their predecessors in terms of tooling and pilot qualifications. There is, however, some additional training required following the aircraft’s lengthy grounding, but that’s unlikely to be a huge drawback.

The big unknown here is whether the airlines will follow in the footsteps of their parent companies, splitting the national arms between manufacturers. Transavia France would naturally have much of its MRO completed at Air France facilities, and this airline is very much an Airbus operator. Air France undertakes short and medium haul operations with a fleet of more than 100 A320 family aircraft; could Transavia France be pulled towards the A320neos to align with its local airline?

For now, we will have to wait and see, but having another big order potentially on the table for either manufacturer is a sign of renewed confidence that the aviation industry very much needs right now.

S: Simple Flying

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