Aircraft manufacturers are poised to receive a major boost as European airline giant Air France-KLM looks to refleet with a major order of up to 160 medium-haul jets.
The move to launch a tender to renew and extend the single-aisle fleets of KLM and low-cost subsidiary Transavia was revealed in an interview with Air France-KLM CEO Ben Smith in Dutch newspaper Het Financieele Dagblad and confirmed by news wires.
“We’ve done a little bit in this area, it’s been on the agenda since 2004, but it’s never been put in place as it is now,” Smith told the Dutch daily.
“I am very pleased to be able to put together this order, the largest in the group’s history.”
The European group has approached both Boeing and Airbus, pitting the US plane-maker’s 737 MAX against the Airbus A320neo family and potentially the smaller A220.
Smith was quoted as saying the expansion of low-cost operations was a key element of plans to rebound from the coronavirus pandemic with plans to as much as triple the number of Transvia jets in France.
A win by Boeing would be another shot in the arm after the MAX’s grounding as a result of two fatal crashes.
The US company recently announced an order for 200 737 MAX aircraft in the wake of a big order from low-cost giant Dallas-based Southwest Airlines for 134 jets and Alaska Airlines for 45.
American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Australian carrier Qantas are also lining up as potential customers as the Boeing MAX backlog tops 4000 planes.
Airbus has demonstrated its resilience during the pandemic and reported a spike in deliveries in June as it presented 77 aircraft to 44 customers. This was a sizeable chunk of year-to-date figures of 297 deliveries to 67 customers.
Like airlines around the world, Air France-KLM has been badly hit by the COVID-19 epidemic.
It last year received loans and guarantees worth 10.4 billion euros ($US12 billion) from government shareholders France and the Netherlands, according to Bloomberg, followed by another 4 billion euros in debt conversion and French government-backed capital.
In other fleet news, Boeing announced an addtional 12 firm orders from commercial aircraft lessor BBAM for 737-800 converted freighters.