This Week in Air Transport (W/C March 16, 2023)

Credit: Boeing

This week’s top air transport stories include an order by Japan Airlines for 21 Boeing 737 MAX-8s and an October trial is set in the US Department of Justice’s suite to block JetBlue’s acquisition of Spirit Airlines.

In aircraft news,  Japan Airlines (JAL) has placed a firm order for 21 Boeing 737 MAX 8s, which are scheduled to begin arriving in 2026. They are intended to begin replacing the 737-800s that comprise JAL’s current narrowbody fleet. JAL said the MAXs will improve the efficiency and range of its narrowbody fleet, as well as reducing fuel burn and emissions by 15%. The order will help the carrier move toward its 2050 carbon-neutral goals. The aircraft are powered by CFM Leap 1B engines.

Air cargo companies FedEx and UPS, the two largest remaining operators of the McDonnell Douglas-developed MD-11 freighter, both announced plans to begin retiring their fleets of aging trijets. Between them, FedEx and UPS currently operate 94 MD-11s, or almost half of the 200 aircraft delivered between 1990 and 2001. But FedEx, which was launch customer for the factory-built freighter version, has announced plans to phase out the trijet as part of a broad ranging cost-saving and modernization campaign, while UPS began retiring the first of its MD-11s in January. Both carriers plan to replace them with a combination of the more fuel efficient Boeing 767 and 777 freighters.

The Russian government is trying to help local airlines to buy Western-made commercial aircraft leased from foreign companies and has allocated about RUB300 billion (around $4 billion) to facilitate this process, according to transport minister Vitaly Savelyev. Lessors based in the European Union, the UK and the US are directly affected by Western sanctions against Russia following the invasion of Ukraine. Lessors had to terminate all leasing agreements and stop all business dealings with their Russian customers. Russia blocked its airlines from returning leased aircraft and instead had them re-registered on the local aircraft registry.

WestJet Cargo received new approval and official certification from Transport Canada covering four Boeing 737-800BCFs. The company anticipates launching cargo service April 22 using three of the four aircraft, with an initial focus on service within North America, including in Calgary, Halifax, Toronto, Vancouver, Los Angeles, and Miami. Bookings open April 1. WestJet Cargo’s fourth freighter, yet to complete conversion, is expected to join the fleet later in 2023. 

In merger and acquisitions news, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) suit to block JetBlue’s proposed $3.8 billion acquisition of Spirit Airlines is set for a jury-waived trial to begin on Monday, Oct. 16 and last no longer than four weeks. DOJ has filed suit to block the deal, calling the carriers “two of the most significant rivals today.” Despite the pushback, JetBlue has formed a dedicated integration team of internal staff and external consultants’ intent on managing a dual focus on the general year ahead as well as the planned integration.

The planned acquisition of Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings by an investor group—led by funds managed by affiliates of Apollo together with investment affiliates of J.F. Lehman & Company and Hill City Capital—has been completed. Now a privately held company, the US lessor, cargo and charter airline will continue operating under the Atlas Air Worldwide name, with its executive leadership team and president and CEO John Dietrich remaining at the helm.

South American airline group JetSMART signed a letter of intent to potentially acquire Colombian ULCC Ultra Air and begin the due diligence process, which should take about 30 days. If the parties agree to move forward with the proposed transaction after the due diligence is complete, the airlines will need to gain approval from Aerocivil, Colombia’s civil aviation regulator. 

Airlines making the news are Delta Air Lines as it launches a new pipeline for pilots, under a partnership with Florida-based training provider Skyborne Airline Academy. Open for applicants, the Delta Propel Flight Academy will cost, on average, $84,000, with up to $20,000 in financial support offered by Delta to eligible students.

Kuwait Airways has expanded its partnerships with Malaysia Airlines, enabling joint operations and offering expanded connectivity to Asia-Pacific, Australia, and New Zealand from Kuwait via Kuala Lumpur. “This includes major cities such as Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Auckland, Tokyo, Taipei, Seoul, Jakarta, Bali, Phuket and Singapore,” Kuwait Airways CEO Maen Razouqi confirmed.

And finally, a new carrier sounds really cool! Veteran Thai airline executive Patee Sarasin intends to launch a new carrier called Really Cool Airlines, which would operate international routes from Bangkok. The concept and branding for the new carrier were revealed on March 22, showing an Airbus A350 in the startup’s livery. Another graphic shows a Boeing 787 in Really Cool Airlines colors. The airline has said it intends to operate widebodies but has not said which type or placed any orders.

Linda Blachly

Linda Blachly is Senior Associate Editor for Air Transport World and Aviation Week. She joined the company in July 2010 and is responsible for producing features for Air Transport World’s monthly magazine and engaging content for the She is based in the Washington DC office.