Who will emerge as A321neoLR launch operator following Primera Air’s collapse?

Airbus and leasing company AerCap will need to quickly find a new launch operator for the A321neo following the collapse of Primera Air, which ceased operations and filed for bankruptcy on 1-Oct-2018. As reported by The Blue Swan Daily earlier this week, the airline has blamed “several unforeseen misfortunate events” for its collapse.


Summary:

  • The collapse of Primera Air means that Airbus is now looking for a new launch customer for the new long-range A321neoLR variant;
  • The airline had agreed in 2017 to be the launch operator of the A321neoLR as part of a deal with AerCap with two aircraft due for delivery later this year;
  • Airbus has at least 136 (disclosed) commitments for the A321neoLR from nine global airlines;
  • The Blue Swan Daily identifies Air Transat as the most likely customer for the Primera Air aircraft as it is planning a similar configuration and has leased AerCap’s other A321neoLRs.

Primera Air signed a lease deal with AerCap in Jun-2017 covering two A321neoLRs for delivery in 4Q2018. Both aircraft are now in final assembly and are the only two A321neoLRs slated to be delivered this year. Airbus has at least 136 commitments for A321neoLRs with the other 134 aircraft slated to be delivered from early 2019.

It would be easiest to remarket the two aircraft initially intended for Primera Air to another A321neoLR operator. In addition to Primera Air nine airlines have announced commitments to A321neoLRs – Air Arabia, Air Astana, Aer Lingus, Air Transat, Jetstar, Norwegian, Peach, SATA and TAP Air Portugal.

However, Primera Air’s configuration could limit the number of potential operators. Primera Air had selected a two-class configuration consisting of 182 economy seats and 16 recliner style business class seats across four rows. The airline already had five standard A321neos, all of which were delivered over the last six months, all in this configuration. Aviation Capital Group and GECAS now have to remarket these aircraft while AerCap will have to find new homes for a sixth A321neo that was about to be delivered and the two A321neoLRs.

Of the other nine announced A321neoLR operators, four are LCCs planning all economy configurations – Air Arabia, Jetstar, Norwegian and Peach. While retrofitting new aircraft is possible this would be costly. Jetstar and Peach are also not planning to begin taking A321neoLRs until 2020.

Air Astana is planning to start A321neoLR deliveries in early 2019 and could become the launch operator if AerCap is not quickly able to find new homes for the Primera Air aircraft. However, Air Astana is likely not interested in the Primera Air aircraft as it is planning to outfit its A321neoLRs with lie flat business seats. Retrofitting the business class cabin is possible but costly and there is currently a long lead time for acquiring additional narrowbody lie flat business class seats.

Aer Lingus and TAP are also likely to outfit A321neoLRs with lie flat business class seats. Aer Lingus is using A321neoLRs to replace 757-200s which have lie flat business seats on transatlantic routes while TAP Portugal is planning a low density 175 seat two class configuration for its A321neoLRs.

Air Transat is perhaps the most likely airline to take on the Primera Air aircraft as it is planning a similar configuration to Primera Air. The Canadian carrier has stated it will configure its A321neoLRs with 200 seats (only four more than Primera) in a two-class configuration. Air Transat is using the A321neoLR to replace ageing A310s, which have 12 recliner style business class and 238 economy seats.

Air Transat is also already an AerCap customer. The Canadian carrier signed an initial deal with AerCap in Jul-2017 (just a month after the Primera Air deal was signed) for 10 A321neoLRs for delivery from spring 2019. Air Transat signed another contract with AerCap in Jun-2018 for a further five A321neoLRs for delivery from 2020.

Portugal’s SATA is the only other A321neoLR operator with a similar configuration as Primera Air. SATA is expected to configure its four A321neoLRs with the same product as its two A321neos, which have 170 economy and 16 recliner style business class seats. However, SATA may not have a need for more A321neoLRs given it is a very small airline with less than ten aircraft.

SATA has sourced its A321neoLRs from Air Lease. Air Lease has committed to 59 A321neoLRs, 22 of which have been placed with operators, according to the CAPA Fleet Database. AerCap has 17 commitments and all had been placed until this week.

Air Lease was the first airline or leasing company to commit to the A321neoLR, signing a deal with Airbus in Jan-2015 as the programme was launched. The A321neoLR is essentially identical to the A321neo, which was launched in late 2010 and entered service in Apr-2017, with the exception of an extra fuel tank and a higher maximum takeoff weight, resulting in approximately 1,000km more range.

Airbus does not provide a breakdown between the A321neoLR and the standard A321neo in its order book. Therefore, it is possible several other airlines have committed to A321neoLRs but these are still being reflected as A321neos in the CAPA Fleet Database because they have not announced intentions to operate the LR variant.

TABLE – Airbus A321neoLR disclosed commitmentsNotes: Airbus is listed as source for aircraft ordered directly with the OEM; *aircraft with unassigned operator have been ordered by Air LeaseSource: CAPA – Centre for Aviation Fleet Database (data: as at 01-Oct-2018)