Lion Group, the Indonesian-based airline conglomerate, is in talks with to accelerate deliveries of /900ERs from 2016 onward as it seeks to capitalize on the rapid expansion of its main airline operation, Lion Air, as well as its swiftly growing regional affiliates.
The operator, which marked the delivery of its 100th Next Generation 737 on Nov. 4 at Boeing Field in Seattle, has more than 300 737s still in the order backlog. This includes 230 twinjets ordered in February 2012—of which 201 are 737 MAXes—making the Indonesian operator the largest single customer in Boeing’s 4,780-plus aircraft delivery backlog.
“I just spoke to Boeing about whether we could accelerate deliveries,” Lion Group President Director Rusdi Kirana said during the delivery ceremony. The group expects to receive 30 Boeing aircraft in 2014 and 32 in 2015, and together with some initial-family aircraft ordered as part of an equally large contract unveiled in March, should see overall fleet deliveries of 36 aircraft per year over the next two years.
Kirana added that given Boeing’s existing commitments, he does not hold out much hope of securing earlier deliveries until 2016. However, in response to record demand for both the current 737 and MAX versions, Boeing last week announced plans to increase monthly production of 737s from 42 per month—a level it will reach in the first half of 2014—to 47 per month in 2017, when the first MAX is due to enter service.
Lion Air, which became the launch customer for the 737-900ER in 2005, currently operates 67 737-900ERs and 19 737-800s. The group’s other 737s are allocated to its Indonesian full-service carrier Batik Air, which flies four 737-900ERs, and overseas affiliates Malindo Air in Malaysia (which has six -900ERs) and, a new carrier based in Bangkok, which has two -900ERs.
The Thai airline is currently flying route-proving services as it enters the final phase of evaluation for approval for its air operator’s certificate from the Thai Department of Civil Aviation. Lion expects the new carrier to begin service in December.
For future expansion, Lion is studying additional affiliates in the Asia-Pacific region, including Australia, which Kirana describes as “a priority.”
Providing additional clarity about the delivery priority in the Lion Air MAX order, Beverly Wyse, Boeing’s vice president and general manager for the 737 program said, “Lion Air is the 737-9 [MAX] launch customer and will be the first to fly the MAX in Asia.”
Kirana says the 737-9 configured with an all-economy layout will have capacity for 225 seats. Lion’s President Director also notes, “that’s good for low cost, but the other good thing about the MAX is it has got good range and will be capable of 6-7 hr. flights non-stop with a full payload. So we can do a lot with this aircraft whether we fly it as a low-cost carrier or if we fly it on medium-range with slightly lower capacity. We are happy with what they [Boeing] are promising. The range is better than the -900ER and so is the fuel burn. The extra range will open up new routes.”
In addition to the 737 backlog, Lion also has five-8s on order and options on five more. The first five, at least two of which could be operated by Thai Lion, are part of the early build batch of 787s that were not configured with the optimized structure of the current production standard. “We are trying to see what we will do with them,” says Kirani.
Describing the batch as “teenager” aircraft, he adds that Lion “got a pretty good deal. But we don’t need that aircraft to fly further than what we need, although for sure they are a little heavier.”
Kirani acknowledges that Thai Lion has expressed a desire to use some of these aircraft on longer-haul operations, adding, “We are working on that.” The aircraft are believed to be-powered line numbers 10, 13, 15, 16 and 18. Meanwhile, delivery of the first A320 is expected in July 2014. The aircraft will be the first of 234 Airbus narrowbodies ordered in March this year, including 109 re-engined , 65 A321neos and 60 current production A320s.
Kirani says the dual purchase of Airbus and Boeing fleets is driven by Lion’s ambitious growth strategy. “We have big plans for our development and I don’t think one original equipment manufacturer can fulfill that. That’s why we bought Airbus after we bought Boeing. We bought Airbus because we need more aircraft. We can’t get them fast enough,” he said.