By Judson Rollins & Bjorn Fehrm
November 14, 2021 © Leeham News: Airbus made a splash on the first day of the Dubai Air Show, announcing a firm order for 255 A321neo family aircraft from the Indigo Partners portfolio of airlines.
This is the first large order for single-aisles since COVID-19 struck early last year, comprising 226 A321neos and 29 A321XLRs.
Indigo Partners, headed by airline veteran Bill Franke, is an Arizona-based private equity firm with stakes in several low-cost carriers around the world. Franke was present at today’s announcement along with the chief executives of all four airlines, two of whom joined the event virtually.
The airlines included in today’s order are US-based Frontier, Mexico’s Volaris, Chile’s JetSmart, and Central European giant Wizz Air. Joint orders like this are relatively uncommon except from multi-carrier conglomerates like Lufthansa Group or IAG. Indigo’s last joint order was for 430 A320neo family aircraft, announced at the 2017 Dubai Air Show.
Wizz Air and Frontier will get the lion’s share of the order announced today, with Wizz taking 75 neos and 27 XLRs and Frontier buying 91 neos. Volaris will get 39 neos, while JetSmart will take 21 neos and 2 XLRs. The bulk of deliveries will take place from 2025 to 2027, although a few will occur before 2025.
Airbus chief commercial officer Christian Scherer said this was a top-up order for Airbus, effectively selling out all remaining A320 family deliveries through 2025.
The A321XLR has 700nm greater range than its previous iteration, the A321LR, and can carry more cargo. Scherer said the XLR earns a premium price over the A321neo, although it seems obvious that manufacturing cost is similar to an A321neo. The XLR is lighter – and hence more efficient – than the LR, making the latter a less capable aircraft that can’t achieve the same premium pricing. The LR thus seems to have a limited future in the market.
Wizz Air CEO József Váradi said the airline will use its XLRs to expand its network outside Eastern Europe, with most to be based in the UK or Abu Dhabi. Basing them in the UK likely points to future plans to add low-cost transatlantic service. Wizz’s intent to place XLRs in its Abu Dhabi joint venture with an Emirati holding company likely points to new destinations in Africa and South Asia.
Frontier CEO Barry Biffle said his airline has already improved its fuel economy from the US average of 60 miles per gallon per seat to 100, and this order will take it to 120. “Frontier is already the most sustainable airline in America, thanks to the A320neo family.”
Biffle said today’s order will take Frontier to a global industry goal of halving carbon emissions per seat by 2030. “Look at all these rich kids buying Tesla and wearing Patagonia, but they won’t fly Frontier,” he told LNA. “We offer the real deal when it comes to sustainability.”