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Qantas eyes the 737 MAX for fleet renewal

written by Adam Thorn | October 5, 2021
A supplied picture of a Boeing 737 MAX 7 landing on April 17, 2019 after a technical demonstration flight for the MCAS software update. (Boeing)
A Boeing 737 MAX 7 landing on 17 April 2019 after a technical demonstration flight for the MCAS software update. (Boeing)

Qantas has revealed its considering joining Virgin and placing an order for the controversial 737 MAX to help refresh its fleet.

It comes as Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce this week meets representatives from Boeing, Airbus and Embraer to discuss the renewal of its narrow-body fleet, which will see more than 100 new aircraft arrive by 2034.

Other aircraft being evaluated include the A320 family (A320neo and A321neo), A220 and Embraer E-Jet E2 family.

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The news Qantas is considering the MAX comes after US Federal Aviation Administration certified the aircraft to fly again late last year following a 20-month ban. It was grounded worldwide due to two fatal crashes that killed a total of 346 people.

In a statement on Tuesday morning, Qantas said the aircraft would be chosen against four key criteria: safety, reliability and performance, sustainability and emissions reduction, and commercial terms. It added final decisions on suppliers of aircraft and engines will be made by the end of 2021 followed by firm orders by mid-2022.

Mr Joyce said the program to renew the fleet is being named Project Winton, after the birthplace of Qantas in outback Queensland.

“All of the next-generation aircraft we’re considering have the potential to drive big improvements in trip cost and overall efficiency, and they’re great platforms for delivering a better premium service to our customers,” said Joyce.

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“Not only will these aircraft deliver a step-change in reducing fuel burn and carbon emissions by up to around 15 per cent, we’re talking to each of the manufacturers about how we can accelerate the development and use of sustainable aviation fuels for our domestic flying.

“This is a long-term renewal plan with deliveries and payments spread over 10 years, starting in FY23, but the equally long lead time means we need to make these decisions soon.”

“COVID has had a devastating impact on the aviation industry and there aren’t many airlines around the world in a position to place orders for new aircraft. We still have our own repair work to do, but we know travel demand will rebound quickly and right now we’re in a strong position to secure the best possible deal at very good prices.”

“The aircraft we’re considering have been in service for several years, which gives us the confidence that they’ve gone through rigorous troubleshooting by the time they enter our fleet. They’re new, but they are known quantities.”

“Our approach is always to have the right aircraft on the right route, which really means balancing the size of the aircraft with the demand in each market. The mix of aircraft we’re considering means we’ll have more operational flexibility, which for customers translates into more direct routes to smaller regional centres and more choice of flights throughout the day.”

“At the other end of the spectrum, we’ll be picking up where we left off with our direct flights to London and New York as part of Project Sunrise, which we hope will start operating in 2024-25.”

The group has already placed an order for 109 Airbus A320/A321 aircraft, which will predominantly be used to renew Jetstar’s exiting fleet of A320s. The first neo is due to be delivered in the second half of calendar year 2022 with deliveries through to the end of the decade.

Late last year, rival Virgin Australia revealed it renegotiated its order with Boeing for the 737 MAX and will now accept only half the number of aircraft.

Previously, the business intended to purchase 25 MAX 10s and an additional 23 smaller MAX 8s, which have now been cut.

Virgin is now scheduled to take delivery of the first aircraft in mid-2023 and not July 2021 as originally intended.

However, the business said keeping some of the order showed a “deep commitment to the future” from new owners Bain Capital.

“The MAX 10 will allow us to build on the operational flexibility we have been able to achieve with our existing fleet throughout administration to ensure we remain competitive on the other side of COVID-19,” said chief executive Jayne Hrdlicka.

31 Comments

  • Vannus

    says:

    Love the name ‘Project Winton’, honouring QANTAS’ fledgling beginnings!

    It follows the very apt ‘Project Sunrise’, named for the aircraft, flights, crews, & pax who flew in radio silence during WW2, from PER to CMB.

    Good on ya Mr Joyce, & the Board!

  • So JetStar will get the reliable good quality aircraft and Quantas will afford the risks…

    • Vannus

      says:

      There is no ‘u’ in QANTAS!

      Never has been, never will be!

      It’s an acronym which stands for ‘Queensland & Northern Territory Aerial Services’, which was its’ full name when incorporated in 1920.

  • Pete

    says:

    The Airbus offering makes more sense. Commonality across the whole group fleet is a no-brainer.

  • Anonymous

    says:

    The Max makes sense as Qantas Already flies the 737-800, the 737 has a more premium feel, as the A320 has a predominantly LCC feel to it

    • Vannus

      says:

      ‘Feelings’ don’t come into it when purchasing multi-billion $ worth of aircrafts’ order.

      An airline will go for the best price, for the best machine that’ll service what it wants in the many areas’ needed.

      QANTAS will buy exactly which type of aircraft it needs, for now, & into the long future.
      Always has done so, & the 21stC is no different.

  • Doug Evans

    says:

    QF would opt for the Airbus if considering passenger comfort and quietness but I bet Boeing will slash the price to gain the order.

  • Rod Pickin

    says:

    You can bet that the QF board already know what A/C they will order; current “consultations/tenders”, its all about pricing. For me though in 2022 onwards the thought of purchasing new A/C that still have only bulk loading below the wing is just archaic which leaves Airbus way out front. The mix of A350/A320/A321 and their variants would meld beautifully with the JQ fleet with outstanding cost savings due to standardisation of make. As for regional jets, a difficult choice but again for standardisation and flexibility the A220 would have to be up there.

    • Vannus

      says:

      Spot on, Rod!

      All you said sounds like the way QANTAS would think.

      The compatibility of fleet has always been important to the Company, as it saves millions’ of $ alone in ‘spares’.

      Added to the new aircraft, of course, will be the 10 current A380, whom AJ always said would come back into the fleet.

    • sjhgj

      says:

      What standardisation does the A220 have to the Qantas fleet or potential fleet? It may have an Airbus logo on it but the A220 is Bombardier designed and made. It has no standardisation with anything Airbus.
      The A220 also exclusively uses PW engines where as Jetstars current A320s are IAE and whilst Qantas could have picked PW for Jetstar’s NEOs, they have already ordered CFM.
      The A220 is a great plane but it’s wrong to think that because it’s an Airbus, it brings fleet standardisation alongside other Airbus products.
      I believe the A220 is better plane than the E-jets, however the E-jets have a lower list purchase price and there are already a fair amount of personal in the country familiar with it.

      • Ferdy

        says:

        Maybe you mean ‘personnel’……

  • Rick

    says:

    Won’t be getting on a 737 Max. That airframe has been pushed too far and is well past it’s use by date. Airbus much better choice.

  • Marum Katze

    says:

    I wouldn’t have the slightest qualms about flying on the “Max”.
    By now, it would have to be the most examined, scrutinized and tested aircraft since the Comet. I note the later Comets, even thought the airlines wouldn’t touch them, gave many years of reliable service as the Nimrod, as a Maritime Surveillance Aircraft….Marum.

    • jfgh

      says:

      Marum, the later Comets were purchased by a number of airlines. and they were operated commercially until the early 80s.
      But in any case, people will and are happily flying on MAX jets. As they also did on the DC10 which similarly had fatal crashes to design flaws.

    • Bryan

      says:

      I know exactly what you mean Marum!

      In the late ‘90’s I flew on Korean Air to LHR, via ICN.
      This was only one week after one of its’ 747’s had crashed into a hillside at GUM.
      Everybody was telling me to change airline, to which I replied ‘now is THE best time to fly on them because all the ‘checks & balances’ will be done down to micro level’.

      And indeed I flew as booked, found them a terrific carrier, & flew home on a brand-new Boeing 777, from MAD transitting AMS & ICN.

  • Vannus

    says:

    Due to hold limitations, QANTAS won’t opt for Boeing 737Max.

    It will go Airbus all the way, due to its’ superior hold capacity for pallets, & better all-round design.

    The Company has been totally chuffed with the A380, & positively consistent with its’ being brought back into service, which hopefully will be sooner rather than later, just awaiting forward pax reservations’, on LH routes’.

    • gfhdsf

      says:

      Vannus, Qantas cancelled their A380 order options, they are also scrapping two of their existing A380s despite their relatively young age and they also wrote down the financial values of the A380 fleet to almost nothing.
      The A380 has been a dud for everyone (except Emirates perhaps) and it’s ironic that you use superior hold capacity for Airbus given that the A380 has abysmal hold capacity.
      Despite this, Qantas could go for the A320s over the MAX since it probably is a better design. However they could have gone for the A320s when they bought the NGs too but they didn’t,

      • Vannus

        says:

        I’m well aware of the past, & current situation re: QANTAS A380.
        Some interesting information on other possibilities’ noted.

        The 10 which are returning to the fleet, have been re-furbished, & mechanically readied for flights’, when forward reservations’ warrant their demand, as CEO Mr Alan Joyce has always said.

        They’ll be a great sight in our skies’, when they fly again.

      • Marc

        says:

        They opted for NG’s over the 320’s because they still continued to operate the classics alongside the NG’s. They would have had to replace the classics too if they had gone for 320’s. Now however, I’d guess seeing as the average age of the entire NG fleet will be between 15-20 years when the changeover occurs.

      • Skystar

        says:

        The A320 was favoured to replace the classic 737 fleet however Sept11 happened and Ansett collapsed and Qantas needed urgent capacity and took Oneworld partner American Airlines 737-800s which were available quickly.They arrived with Americans leather seats which were then removed and sent back to the US.The superior A320 neo brought about the knee jerk 737 Max.The 737 design should have stopped with the NG.Its origins date back to 1967 and its fuselage back to the 707 from the 1950s.Having flown in both the A320 and 737 the A320 is far better flying experience.Price will be the deciding factor and no doubt Boeing will offer a deal to good to refuse to stop them giving the order to Airbus.

        The A380 thats another story as to why it has not been as successful even though loved by passengers.

  • Luke

    says:

    There are a few points that Qantas might choose Airbus over Boeing.
    The original order for the A320 was for Jetstar than later it was charged to Qantas group. Having the same aircraft type across the group would be a cost savings on parts ect.
    Qantas is also looking at quick turnaround on the domestic flying and having a containerised aircraft allows for this.
    It also allows the ability to have a sub fleet to meet demand for example A320/321 and A321 XLR.
    Perhaps Airbus might offer a better discount on the A220 aircrafts if Qantas selects this aircraft to replace the 717. Not sure if tech crew can operate both A320 and A220. Just something to think about

  • Scott

    says:

    Qantas will go with Airbus for sure.

    Having the same aircraft in their fleet as Jetstar not only gives Qantas commonality when it comes to spares, maintenance and crewing, but it also gives them flexibility when it comes to missions – there’s no MAX equivalent to the A321XLR that Qantas can use to run flights up into Asia

  • Tony

    says:

    I agree that an Airbus order is more likely. Primary reason is group fleet commonality. But Boeing is definitely in with a good chance. I remember approx 15-20 years ago when the fleet decision for Jetstar was made favouring Airbus, the reasoning for having Jetstar flying Airbus (A320) and Qantas mainline flying Boeing (737) was so that separate employment contracts could be agreed for each aircraft type.
    If that is a priority this time around, Boeing is in with a very good chance.

  • Rodney

    says:

    sorry guys however I would never fly a 737 max even if it was the last aircraft flying in Australia, despite all the rhetoric all its problems not solved’

    • kfhkj

      says:

      Rodney, there are several confidential aviation safety reporting avenues for you to express your knowledge of unsolved problems with the 737 that you seem to know about but don’t appear to feel comfortable telling us about.

  • Bill OReally.

    says:

    Boeing have blown it with quality control on Max and 787’s. Cutting costs at all cost is no way to do business. Euro quality exceeds US quality control generally, just look at an Audi compared to a Pontiac. Except of course in submarines, but Scomo will put pressure on Joyce to buy Airbus anyway, to kiss and make up to France. Everyone wins….except Chicago. ( where the downfall was plotted after the move from engineers in Seattle, to bean counters in Chicago)

    • Pachobel

      says:

      Mass modern Euro and American products are both made to the lowest standard acceptable to which their respective managers think can best make money.

      To use your exmaple of a Euro benchmark – Audi’s have stacks of problems after the warranty runs out. Talk to a few mechanics. Many Audi engines a timing belt (for example, the 1.8TFSI) which requires a major service every 90,000km whilst cheaper cars (including some Pontiacs) use timing chains that are maintenance free for the life of the car. Audi’s “DSG” and “Multitronic” gearboxs have a notorious reputation for failures despite multiple recalls. Their direct injection engines are known for injector problems and many vital engine components such as chain guides and thermostats are made out of plastic despite other cheaper cars using metal. To top if off, many Audi models are just reskins of much cheaper VW models and they merely put sleeker body panels and interior on a VW and charge a premium.
      No aircraft made to the standard of an Audi would be acceptable for commercial use.

      As for your belief about Scomo – there’s no reason why he would have anything to do with this order. Also, Airbus is not French, it has a minority portion that is French and the HQ is located in France but is majority multinational. Some of the A320s are even made in USA. IF you look at the history of Airbus, it was consortium of numerous different aero companies of different nations coming together to take on USA which was, and still is, the worlds global power for engineering expertise for which no single country has been able to match in the aerospace field.
      Ordering Airbus will have little to no diplomatic effect on France.

      • Marum

        says:

        @Pachobel….Thanks for replying to that nonsense about Audis. My original trade was a motor-mechanic. All you said is true. I just couldn’t be bothered replying.

        Flying was my intended career, but that never happened. Still, I have maintained a lifelong interest in aviation. Too old to fly even recreationally, anymore. I think by now, any of us who are technical by nature or training, know how to handle a MCAS malfunction.

        I worked in Electronics for 30 years as a career of choice. Part of my job entailed, modifying a lot of new, ” you beaut” Computerized equipment which came from the USA, to get it to work reliably. Autonomous cars or aircraft – no way. I still want a suitably trained person up front.

        Regards….Marum.

  • Jack Roberts

    says:

    Hi Bill. Maybe this has some relevence to your opinion. The 787 has been key to QANTAS getting through the pandemic. Probably the most versatile and reliable aircraft in their widebody fleet.
    QANTAS’ LONGEST REPATRIATION FLIGHT TOUCHES DOWN IN DARWIN

    • Rod Pickin

      says:

      Gidday Jack. Unfortunately I do not share your views on the excellence of the QF B787; I do admit that the highly publicised ultra long journeys achieved by the ship have proved beyond doubt the abilities of all concerned surrounding the planning and implementation of such journeys, all have been massive positive displays of excellence and a wonderful PR exercise to boot. Clearly I don’t have access to the figures but I would suggest that all the operations are at a highly operationally regulated weight basis and an ultra long distance from profitability as well, something that we all should be mindful of.

    • Donald

      says:

      Touché, Jack!

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