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.
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.
“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.