Planespotters in some South-East Asian cities are in for a treat over the next few days. Airbus is taking its A220-300 on a week-long demonstration tour through key cities. Flight Global is reporting that the plane is first heading to Seoul, Yangon, Hanoi, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and finally, Nagoya. The tour started on July 29, 2019 and will wind up on August 6, 2019.
The A220 is selling like hotcakes elsewhere but is reasonably uncommon in South East Asia. Korean Air has ten flying around the North Asian region and Air Vanuatu is the only other airline in the wider region to order the plane. The Airbus A220 test aircraft will be making its way to six points in Asia as part of a demonstration tour.
The Airbus promotional material for the tour highlights the advantages of the A220. It notes its fuel efficiency and promises a wide-bodied flying experience in a single-aisle aircraft. It can fly up to 6.300 kilometres and carry up to 150 passengers in a single-class cabin.
Just this month, we reported that Airbus has sold half as many A220s in the last year as its previous owner, Bombardier, had sold in a decade. As of June 2019, 551 A220s have been sold and 78 delivered. Delta is the largest customer, having ordered 95. It has received 18 so far.
Other significant A220 customers include Air Baltic, Air Canada, JetBlue, Lufthansa, Moxy and Republic Air. All up there are 21 customers. What is interesting is that, other than Korean Air, there are no orders from Asia.
Why the A220 has been a slow seller in Asia
Right now, and for the foreseeable future, Asia is the fastest-growing aviation market in the world. Incomes are rising, infrastructure is expanding, and the population is becoming increasingly mobile. Premium carriers reach into the affluent, developed nations and low-cost carriers are booming in fast-developing nations like Indonesia, India, and Myanmar.
It should be low hanging fruit for Airbus and its A220. But the aircraft has struggled to sell in the region. Why is that?
The previous owner of the A220, Bombardier, always had a small footprint in Asia and the South Pacific. In 2017, Bombardier sold a 50.1% stake in what was then known as its C-Series aircraft to Airbus for the princely sum of zero upfront.
Airbus, with their far slicker marketing and global reach, planned to revitalize the aircraft, brought it into the stable and renamed the C-Series the A220.
If you take the marketing at face value, the A220 should be perfect for flying around Asia. The A220 has the range to fly as far as Australia and India. It is regarded as a good aircraft but, as Forbes reported, its production is beset by teething problems. The conglomerate manner of production that spans different countries is considered a serious barrier to operational and financial efficiencies.
In addition, some A220s already flying are been impacted by inflight incidents.
Meanwhile, Boeing, despite having problems of its own, has had huge success with its 737s in Asia. As low-cost carriers grow in the region, the 737 has become the short-haul single-aisle workhorse of choice in Asia and the Pacific.
And the benefits of incumbency are many. Maintenance and supply chains are established, the crew are trained in the aircraft type, airport infrastructure is set up to handle the aircraft, and passengers are familiar with model.
Airbus clearly sees a future for the A220 in the region
But by swinging the A220 through the region this week, Airbus clearly want to break Boeing’s stranglehold in the region.
Their stop in Myanmar is particularly noteworthy. The aviation market there is still young but the potential is enormous; it could be the next Vietnam. Airbus clearly senses an opportunity there.
Judging by the sharp uptick in A220 sales in the last year, particularly at the recent Paris Air Show, Airbus have done a good job promoting the A220.
No doubt there have been and will be some good discounts on the table to encourage sales. Airbus is yet to make a dollar out of the A220 but they clearly see a future in the aircraft.
We’ll keep an eye out and see what happens this week. The A220 might yet expand its presence in Asia.