Last week, LATAM Airlines Group announced the immediate lease rejection of the remaining 11 Airbus A350 XWB in its long-haul fleet. The airline decided to simplify its widebody fleet under one brand, Boeing, with 17 B767s, ten B777-300ER, ten B787-8, and 12 B787-9.
LATAM’s decision to wave goodbye to its A350 fleet was expected but surprising. Let’s quickly review LATAM’s history with the A350.
TAM was one of A350’s first clients
In 2005, the Brazilian airline TAM signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the Airbus A350, committing to order eight A350 jets. It also added the option for seven more aircraft. Two years later, TAM expanded its order to 22 A350-900, as reported by Airway.
Then, in 2010, TAM increased it once more to 27 aircraft, becoming one of the largest customers of the new Airbus widebody. However, in 2011, TAM and the Chilean airline LAN announced a merger, which meant trouble for the Airbus order, although it couldn’t have been foreseen at that time.
The new LATAM inherited a diverse fleet. The Brazilians operated with Airbus (it received its first A330-200 in 1998), while the Chileans were Boeing customers. This new carrier had a Chilean administration, and therefore adopted LAN’s strategy, which centered on Boeing’s products.
Despite the cultural management, LATAM Brazil kept the Airbus order.
The arrival of the first A350
On December 18, 2015, Airbus announced that TAM Airlines had become the first A350XWB operator in the Americas.
TAM’s aircraft was configured in a premium two-class layout. It had 348 seats, comprising 30 premium business class and 318 in economy. At that time, LATAM still had a total order of 27 A350 XWB aircraft for the Group.
Roberto Alvo, CEO of International & Alliances at LATAM at that time, said,
“Adding this aircraft into our fleet not only proves our commitment to maintaining one of the youngest and most modern fleets in the world, but it also strengthens our relationship with Airbus, a true partner with whom we have grown in the last decades.”
On January 25, 2016, LATAM Brazil operated its first A350-900 revenue service between Sao Paulo Guarulhos and Manaus.
Brazil’s economic issues and Qatar’s lease
Between 2014 and 2016, Brazil had a significant economic setback that directly impacted the airline industry.
LATAM Brazil started to show some uncertainty regarding its A350 fleet in 2016. That year, the management decided to replace 14 A350-900 with the largest A350-1000. However, in 2017, it reverted two A350-1000 to the -900 again. And then one year later, it reverted four more aircraft.
In March 2017, Qatar Airways leased four of LATAM’s A350s. At that time, Akbar Al Baker, Qatar’s CEO, said,
“In order to meet the growing demand for our services, Qatar Airways has entered into an agreement with LATAM Airlines Group to secure up to four A350 aircraft for up to one year.”
This experiment lasted until May 20, 2020, when Qatar Airways returned the four leased aircraft to LATAM. Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Qatar Airways drastically reduced its fleet, TAM’s A350 had to go.
The Delta fallout
In 2019, Delta purchased a 20% stake in LATAM in one of the year’s biggest surprises. As part of the agreement, Delta would buy four A350s from LATAM and take LATAM’s commitment for ten further A350.
Once again, the COVID-19 pandemic destroyed those plans. Both carriers terminated the aircraft sale and purchase agreement, and Delta paid US$62 million to LATAM as a penalty. LATAM remained in possession of its A350 fleet.
LATAM waves goodbye to the A350
From the original 27 aircraft A350 order, LATAM only ever received 13. Delta absorbed the order for ten A350s.
In 2020, LATAM rejected the leases of the first two and sent them to Victorville, California. Then, in 2021, the South American giant announced the rejection of leasing contracts of the remaining 11. LATAM Brazil’s CEO, Jerome Cadier, said,
“Among these decisions, one is the restructuration of our widebody fleet in Brazil. Therefore, today we announce that seven aircraft A350 are leaving our LATAM Brazil fleet immediately; next week, another four will go as well. With that, starting this month, LATAM’s widebody fleet will be composed of B777/B767 and B787.”
Following the announcement, LATAM’s fleet now comprises 44 Airbus A319, 132 A320-200, 12 A320neo, 38 A321-200, zero A350, 17 B767-300, ten B777-300ER, ten B787-8, and 12 B787-9.
Did you expect to see LATAM wave goodbye to its A350 fleet so soon? Let us know in the comments.