Boeing couldn’t have asked for a stronger vote of confidence in its embattled 737 MAX program than a 200-aircraft order on Day 2 of the Paris Air Show from International Airlines Group (IAG), the parent company of Aer Lingus, British Airways, Iberia, LEVEL and Vueling However, conflicting statements took some of the gloss of the announcement, writes John Walton from Le Bourget.
It was announced on Tuesday (European time) IAG had signed a letter of intent (LOI) with Boeing for 200 737s comprising a mix of 737 MAX 8s and 737 MAX 10s.
While the LOI represented a boost to the 737 MAX program given the global fleet remains grounded following two fatal crashes, it did not go unnoticed IAG’s statement specifically dropped the name “MAX” when referring to the aircraft.
“The mix of 737-8 and 737-10 aircraft would be delivered between 2023 and 2027 and would be powered by CFM LEAP engines,” the IAG statement said.
“It is anticipated that the aircraft would be used by a number of the Group’s airlines including Vueling, LEVEL plus British Airways at London Gatwick airport.”
By contrast, Boeing described the LOI in its statement by saying IAG had announced an “intent to buy 200 Boeing 737 MAX airplanes”.
IAG has signed LoI for 200 @BoeingAirplanes #737Max. IAG’s statement – which does not mention the name “MAX” – says the order is for “mix of 737-8 and 737-10” for delivery 2023 -2027 powered by CFM Leap. For use by Vueling, LEVEL plus BA Gatwick (Pic Comair) #PAS19 #PAS2019 pic.twitter.com/qjFZgu06DNPROMOTED CONTENT
— Max Kingsley-Jones (@MaxK_J) June 18, 2019
While officially the 737-8 and 737-10 designations were how the aircraft are referred to in official documents – with the MAX used in marketing the type – the vote of confidence in the order was somewhat undermined by Boeing and IAG’s contrasting statements.
Boeing Commercial Airplanes chief executive Kevin McAllister said: “We are truly honored and humbled by the leadership at International Airlines Group for placing their trust and confidence in the 737 MAX and, ultimately, in the people of Boeing and our deep commitment to quality and safety above all else.”
“We are delighted that the IAG team recognized the superior qualities of the 737 MAX and has indicated an intention to return to the Boeing 737 family. We look forward to building on our long-standing partnership with IAG for many years to come.”
Further, the Boeing statement added: “IAG CEO Willie Walsh has said the group would consider the 737 MAX as part of diversifying its future fleet to spur competition.”
In the IAG statement, Walsh said the 737s would make a great addition to the airline group’s shorthaul fleet.
“We have every confidence in Boeing and expect that the aircraft will make a successful return to service in the coming months having received approval from the regulators,” Walsh said.
Yet in the crucial middle-of-the-market segment, IAG also announced an order for 14 Airbus A321XLRs at Le Bourget on Tuesday, with no competing 737 MAX 9 (or 737-9, for that matter) as part of the Boeing order. Eight of the A321XLRs will head to Iberia, with six for Aer Lingus.
“The aircraft will enable Aer Lingus to launch new routes beyond the US East Coast and Canada,” Airbus said in a statement.
“For Iberia, this is a new aircraft type that will enable it to operate new transatlantic destinations and increase frequencies in key markets.”
The diversification Boeing mentioned represented a smart move for any airline or group of the size of IAG, and indeed this would seem to be a sensible step.
While the A321XLR order suggested Aer Lingus and Ibera would remain as A320 family operators, this was not a given. Airbus has been making much of the ability for pilots to operate both the A330 and A320 family with minimal retraining and often cross-certification. Both Iberia and Aer Lingus operate A330s.
Specific mention of British Airways’ Gatwick base, which has often received the aircraft dregs of its flagship Heathrow operation, suggested that British Airways would keep the A320 family at Heathrow.
Reading between the lines (and indeed reading some of the lines themselves), it would appear that the Boeing aircraft were destined for the low-cost carriers in the group, as well as British Airways’ semi-separate leisure operation out of London’s second airport, Gatwick.
IAG’s LOI had echoes of the order by Walsh’s compatriot and Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary of 100 Boeing 737-800s in January 2002, after a drop in orders of 45 per cent in the months after the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States for a price that O’Leary then said was “exceptionally competitive”.
Given that a LOI is the industry’s least-committing type of order paperwork, the way Boeing carried out its announcement was the topic of much speculation by senior members of the international aviation media assembled at Le Bourget, with the airframer omitting many of the usual signals that a major order was imminent, and making the choice not to round up journalists — even some of those already in its own chalet.
This may seem very much like inside baseball, but there are norms and mores to the way that airframers make news at the world’s largest airshow, and Boeing’s choices to conduct itself differently, especially when this means an announcement is thus attended by fewer journalists to ask questions, was notable.
John Walton is at Le Bourget all week — follow him live on Twitter at @thatjohn.