LATAM Bids Adieu To First Latin American Airbus A350

The first A350XWB to ever arrive in Latin America, almost five years ago, is no longer in Latin America. On 30 September, LATAM Brazil sent its first A350, registration PR-XTA, to Victorville Airport in California. This aircraft won’t return to the company, as the South American giant is reducing its fleet size due to the current pandemic and its Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Let’s investigate further. 

Even before the current crisis, LATAM sought to lessen its A350 commitments and fleet. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

The first A350XWB of the Americas wasn’t the first to leave

The PR-XTA aircraft arrived with LATAM Brazil in December 2015. In its nose, it said “Primeiro A350 XWB das Américas,” meaning that it was the first of its kind to arrive in Latin America. It was the first of a then-order of 25 A350. LATAM was betting on the newest widebody of Airbus to reassure its long-standing long-haul power in Latin America. Nevertheless, the COVID-19 pandemic struck the world, and LATAM had to change its plans. 

First, it filed for a Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the US. Then, it agreed to reduce the size of its fleet by rejecting leasing contracts and returning airplanes like Airbus A320, A319, and A350. In the meantime, its brand new partner, Delta Air Lines, took the remaining A350 order of LATAM, as reported by CH-Aviation

Then LATAM proceeded to send its planes to Victorville for storage. The first A350 to go was the PR-XTB, which had first arrived in the company in 2016. Now, the PR-XTA also left the South American airline. 

Finnair Airbus A350
Airlines across the world have been selling and leasing back its A350s fleet rather than retiring them. Photo: Getty Images

The A350 has been mostly safe from COVID-19

Unlike its bigger brother, the A380, or Boeing’s 747, the A350 has been as safe as it can be during the last few months. Airlines worldwide have been storing widebodies across different airports, never to fly again. Air France, for instance, has already decided to phase out its A380 fleet permanently.

Whether it is because there aren’t many A350s flying around, or is a newer model with fewer seats, airlines have been patient with the model. LATAM and South African Airways are the exception to the rule. SAA had a short romance with the A350; it has returned all of its former planes due to its current crisis. Meanwhile, LATAM still has ten Airbus A350, of which only three are operating commercial flights at the moment. 

Despite keeping the A350s in their fleets, some carriers have opted to sale-and-lease-back these airplanes. Finnair, for example, did that in August

LATAM 787 Getty
LATAM has reduced its fleet by 38 planes so far. Photo: Getty Images

How many airplanes have LATAM returned so far?

In May, LATAM announced it had identified 19 leased aircraft to be cut from its fleet. This list included the two A350s mentioned above. It also included four Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners and 13 other Airbus planes. 

Then, in September, the South American carrier added 19 more airplanes to the red list. This time, all the aircraft were Airbus A320 family, divided into 13 A320s and six A319s. LATAM said, 

“The Debtors have determined that each of the Leases does not currently provide value beneficial to the Debtors or their estates in light of the economic climate currently facing the airline industry.”

Nevertheless, the Chapter 11 reorganization of LATAM is far from over. As of 30 June 2020, LATAM had a big fleet composed of 318 aircraft, including more than 130 A320s and a wide variety of long-haul planes. 

As the recovery progresses, it is more than likely that LATAM will further reduce its fleet. 

Have you ever traveled on board LATAM’s A350? How was it? Let us know in the comments.