The A220 has been selling like the proverbial hotcake. From Latvia to Africa, the A220 is proving a popular aircraft for regional ops, and is doing well in the US too. However, a couple of large carriers have been notably absent from the Airbus order books. Here’s why American Airlines (and United) have no desire to buy the A220.
With Delta’s fleet of A220s growing by the day and other North American airlines scrambling to join the queue, eyes have turned to the other two of the ‘big three’, who are yet to express an interest in the jet. Between Delta, JetBlue, Moxy and Air Canada, 270 of the 511 A220s already ordered are all sewn up.
Clearly there is a strong market for a long range, low capacity aircraft in North America, so where are United and AA?
American Airlines has no need for the A220
As shared by View From the Wing, American Airlines has clearly stated that they have no interest in the A220 range of aircraft. Despite operating 20 Embraer ERJ-190s, which are themselves 100 seater aircraft and due to be retired soon, the carrier is not looking to replace these aircraft with shiny new A220s.
In a Q&A session with employees, AA’s Vice President of Planning, Vasu Raja, noted that the airline would rather continue with its strategy of picking up used A319s than invest in the new aircraft from Airbus:
“We look at any and all aircraft that are out there, whether it’s something that fits into the American Airlines fleet of today or not we will go and look at it.
“One of the hidden advantages of American Airlines is we are the largest operator of the A319 in the world. As there are more and more of these kind of planes [in the circa 100 seat market] that come online it effectively lowers the market value of the 319s at a time when so many 319s are aging out of their initial lease terms. There were so many 319s delivered from the 2005 – 2012 window. And so that creates a unique opportunity for us where our decision isn’t necessarily go buy a brand new small narrowbody, we can still be players in the used narrow body space.
“We are looking at being able to fly all of our aircraft a lot longer, because that’s a really wise capital thing to do, but we’re also being very opportunistic about how we think about that small narrowbody fleet in the future.”
He makes a good point. Between 2005 and 2012, 706 A319s were delivered to airlines out of 1,486 ever ordered, almost 50% of the total built. Most were delivered in the early part of this period, meaning they have served their time with their initial purchasers, and many are coming up for sale.
American Airlines currently operates a fleet of 132 A319s. Although some are relatively new, many are around 20 years old, and the overall fleet age stands at 15.5 years, according to Planespotters.
Old plane versus new plane
The strategy of buying used aircraft and keeping on top of maintenance is fairly prevalent among all the mainline US carriers. United too has a large fleet of A320 family narrowbodies with a high average age. Many of these joined the fleet second hand, saving the airline large amounts versus purchasing a new plane.
In an interview with The Points Guy, United Airlines too said they saw no advantage to the A220 in their future fleet planning strategy. Ankit Gupta, head of UA’s network planning team, told TPG that,
“Over our five-year plan, we have no interest in buying a 100-seater,”
Delta too has a number of A319s which are over 20 years old too, and the average age of its A320 fleet is an astounding 24.1 years, with some individuals approaching their 30th birthday. Clearly Delta has seen the benefit in plumping for a more efficient brand new plane, however, and will likely look to retire some of these older Airbus narrowbodies along with their MDs as more A220s join the fleet.
In terms of the A220, Delta is taking a path less traveled by acquiring brand new narrowbodies for its operations. Whether this was entirely influenced by the bargain price at which they shook hands will probably never be known, but unless Airbus intends to cut a similar deal for other US mainline carriers, the old A320 family planes will be with us for many years to come.