Qantas is to start the evaluation of new short-haul aircraft to replace its 75 Boeing 737NGs this year.
Speaking at the airline’s half-year result, Vanessa Hudson, the airline’s chief financial officer, told the media that the selection process would start later this calendar year.
Qantas’s fleet of 737NGs is the backbone of its domestic and trans-Tasman operations but many are now approaching 20 years in service.
The competition will pit the Airbus A320 NEO (new engine option) family against the Boeing 737 MAX family. Both aircraft come in a range of seating capacities from about 160 to 230.
Qantas chief Alan Joyce has said he will be leveraging the airline’s World Safest Airline award from AirlineRatings.com to extract a better deal out of Boeing.
Australian Aviation reported that Mr. Joyce told the Sydney Morning Herald; “If you look at it from an opportunity point of view, given the aircraft (737 MAX) is going to be very safe, what will Boeing do to get the safest airline in the world to buy the aircraft?”
The competition will be intense for the A$6.60 billion order.
At stake is Boeing’s reputation and the speed of its financial recovery from the 20-month grounding of its 737 MAX following two crashes that killed 346 people.
Airbus will price match Boeing for the prized order as it aims to topple Boeing as the major supplier to Qantas, which has been a long-time and faithful customer to the Seattle plane builder.
The 737 MAX has been subjected to unprecedented scrutiny in the wake of the two software-related crashes in 2018 and 2019.
Since grounding the aircraft in March 2019, a global effort to get it back in the air has resulted in 391,000 engineering and software man-hours, 1847 simulator hours, 3000 flight hours, and support from 80 airlines and 12 aviation regulators or organisations.
The enormous effort also corrected industry-wide assumptions on pilot training and experience which were significant factors in both tragedies, according to crash experts.
Airbus appears to have the edge after Qantas committed to buying 36 of the longest-range versions of the largest A320NEOs — the A321XLR — in 2019 as part of an order for 109 aircraft for Jetstar.