Indigo Partners' ULCCs Stun Dubai Airshow With 255-Aircraft Deal

Credit: Airbus

U.S. private equity fund Indigo Partners signed a massive 255-aircraft deal for Airbus A321neo narrowbodies on the opening day of the Dubai Airshow.

The deal will see the Indigo's four ULCCs—U.S.-based Frontier Airlines, Chile-based JetSMART, Mexico-based Volaris and Hungary-based Wizz Air—each add large numbers of A321neos to their growing fleets. It also means, Airbus CCO and head of international Christian Scherer confirmed at a press conference, that the manufacturer has essentially sold out of A321 slots.

The firm order brings the total number of A320 family aircraft ordered by Indigo airlines to 1,145.

Specifically, Wizz Air is purchasing an additional 75 A321neos and 27 of the ultra-long range A321XLRs; Frontier is getting 91 more A321neos; Volaris is taking 39 more A321neos; and JetSMART will take 21 more A321neos and two XLRs. JetSMART and Volaris are also upconverting 38 A320neos in their order backlogs to A321neos. New aircraft deliveries to Indigo carriers will start to “trickle in” over the next three years, Scherer said, but the majority of deliveries will take place in the second half of the decade.

The CEOs of Wizz and Frontier were in the Airbus chalet for the signing, joined by Indigo managing partner Bill Franke, Airbus Group CEO Guillaume Faury and Scherer. The Volaris and JetSMART CEOs joined via video conferencing.

Asked if the order means Airbus has sold out of A321neo slots, Scherer replied: “The short answer is yes. But we are very flexible with our customers.”

The manufacturer and airlines were also pressed on whether a special price had been established, given the slump in new aircraft orders caused by the pandemic.

“Obviously we have an optimistic view of the market as we recover from the pandemic and we wanted to be early in the process [of expanding fleets],” Franke said. “That’s our strategy across the portfolio.”

Faury added: "There are not many airline groups like Indigo Partners and we really like the relationship we have with them. There is give and take when you deal this way.”

Franke emphasized that Indigo has a strong emphasis on maintaining conservative balances and that all four airlines have come through the pandemic in good shape relative to most. He told ATW that getting “competitively ahead” of other carriers by securing so many A321s was a factor in the decision to move now.

Wizz Air CEO Jozsef Varadi said he “absolutely thought” that some of the XLRs in his airline’s order will go to Wizz Air Abu Dhabi, which was established last year. He also said that the new order of 102 aircraft gets the company “very close” to its plan of getting to a fleet size of 500 by 2030.

Frontier president and CEO Barry Biffle emphasized the additional fuel efficiency and emissions’ benefits that the new aircraft will bring.

“We are already America’s greenest airline with an existing fleet that is 43% more fuel efficient, on average per seat, than other U.S. carriers. The A321neo is expected to deliver nearly 120 ASMs per gallon, further advancing our industry-leading environmental efforts while debunking the myth that being green is an expensive investment only achievable in the future,” he said.

Frontier’s orderbook now stands at 234 aircraft and the airline expects to have a fleet size of more than 270 aircraft by the end of 2029.

Karen Walker

Karen Walker is Air Transport World Editor-in-Chief and Aviation Week Network Group Air Transport Editor-in-Chief. She joined ATW in 2011 and oversees the editorial content and direction of ATW, Routes and Aviation Week Group air transport content.