Qantas has entered the final stages of a formal tender process with aircraft and engine manufacturers for the long-term renewal of its domestic narrow-body fleet.
The program, which has been flagged previously, will see more than 100 new aircraft enter the national carrier’s domestic fleet by 2034, renewing the Boeing 737-800s and Boeing 717s that currently form the backbone of its domestic jet operations.
Deliveries would start from the end of 2023 but the Group would retain significant flexibility to make adjustments depending on market conditions.
The aircraft being considered are the Boeing 737 MAX family and Airbus A320neo family, as well as the smaller Embraer E-Jet E2 family and the Airbus A220.
The tender process includes detailed evaluation of the aircraft against four key criteria: safety, reliability and performance, sustainability and emissions reduction, and commercial terms.
Final decisions on preferred suppliers of aircraft and engines are expected to be made by the end of 2021 followed by firm orders by mid-2022.
Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce, who is meeting Boeing, Airbus, Embraer and engine manufacturers at the International Air Transport Association AGM in Boston this week, said determining the jets that would serve Qantas Domestic for the next two decades was a key milestone for the Group.
“We’re calling this Project Winton, after the birthplace of Qantas in outback Queensland, because this is a foundational decision for the future of our domestic operations,” Mr Joyce said.
“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.
“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.”
Mr Joyce said as the airline’s network consists of flying between large capital cities as well to smaller cities and regional centres it’s likely a combination of larger and smaller aircraft types would be ordered.
“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 Qantas Group has an existing order for 109 Airbus A320/A321 aircraft, which will predominantly be used to renew Jetstar’s exiting fleet of A320 aircraft. The first neo is due to be delivered in the second half of calendar year 2022 with deliveries through to end of the decade.
Three additional 787-9 Dreamliners for Qantas International will be delivered from FY23 onwards.
The B737-800s have been the workhorse of Qantas’ domestic operation for the past 20 years, with fantastic reliability and a product that customers love. The most recent aircraft arrived in 2014 so the 737-800 will continue to fly for Qantas well into the next decade.
The B717s have provided Qantas with the flexibility to service many segments of the domestic market, including regional routes, fly in fly out operations or more frequencies to capital cities.
AIRCRAFT BEING EVALUATED
Note: Aircraft information has been sourced from manufacturers’ websites. Specifications are indicative only and not reflective of the specifications of any potential aircraft order by Qantas.
Boeing 737 MAX family
Airbus A320 family
Embraer E-Jet E2 family