How Could Qantas Use The Airbus A220?

Airbus brought its A220 downunder this week for what they are calling a demonstration tour. Airbus knows the nimble little aircraft could be perfect for some of the region’s long skinny routes and the airlines that fly them. 

Airbus leased an Air Baltic A220 to bring down to Australia on a demonstration tour this week. Photo: Airbus.

Airbus has borrowed an AirBaltic all economy class A220 for the whistle stop tour. The plane is a long way from home as it swings through Port Vila, Sydney, Brisbane, Auckland, Noumea and Port Moresby. Qantas CEO, Alan Joyce, was among the local airline executives invited to take a ride on the plane while it was in Sydney.

There are some interesting stops on the latest Airbus A220 demonstration tour. Source: Airbus.

Local airline Air Vanuatu has already ordered four A220s. Airbus would like to see more of them in the region and is eyeing off Qantas and its boss, Alan Joyce. And it does seem Mr Joyce quite likes the plane, but how could he use the Airbus A220?

Replacements for Qantas’ 717s and F100s

Right now, Qantas operates a fleet of Boeing 717s and Fokker 100s under its QantasLink brand (primarily on the long red dirt routes outside the south eastern golden triangle). There are 20 Boeing 717s buzzing around and some of them are almost 20 years old, having come from Impulse Airlines. The 17 Fokker 100s are even older.

Mr Joyce views the A220 as a good replacement aircraft for both the 717s and Fokkers. The A220 is similar in size to the 717 but is quieter and offers better passenger amenities. While Qantas does like to spin its glamour planes and routes through the media, a core part of its operation is flying to regional destinations never heard about. The resources and FIFO work out of Perth is a key example and that’s where Qantas works its Fokkers and 717s hard.

Qantas is looking at the A220 as a possible replacement for its fleet of Boeing 717s. Photo: Qantas News Room.

Passenger numbers often aren’t high enough to warrant a 737. A plane like the A220 slots neatly into that sub 737 capacity level but also has the range to do a return flight out to a mine site three hours northwest of Perth.

However, Mr Joyce is flinching at the price of the A220. The A220’s list price is between USD$80 and $90 million. Given that, will he really want to send a brand new plane out to the WA mines? All that dust …

Plenty of international and domestic options for the A220

If Mr Joyce decided to pony up the cash and bought the A220, would he prefer to send it elsewhere and use it to carry regular passengers rather than the FIFO/resources crowd?

A perennial possible example is the Adelaide – Singapore route. It might also be a handy aircraft for routes to New Zealand that are currently not serviced, such as Sydney – Dunedin or Adelaide to Christchurch.

In the domestic sphere, it could replace Qantas 717 services in Tasmania and Canberra. The A220 can come with a business class cabin, making it suitable for the high levels of premium travel passengers in and out of Canberra.

Outside any of the top ten domestic routes, where Qantas probably makes the bulk of its domestic revenue, the A220 would probably work well.

Needs to make a decision but no mad rush

Alan Joyce seems interested in the A220 but it isn’t in a mad rush to order. He notes the 717s and Fokkers are old but they are reliable and well maintained. Then there’s the issue of the price. But Airbus can probably be persuaded to knock a few bucks off the list price and do a deal. 

Mr Joyce does acknowledge that Airbus is picking up quite a few A220 orders. In order to get his replacement aircraft sooner rather than later, he does plan on making a call regarding the A220 sometime in 2020.

Airbus will find out then whether sending one of its A220 all the way down to Australia was worth the money and time.