Indigo Partners Order Supports Airbus’ Bullish Market View

Airbus' Christian Scherer and Indigo Partners' Bill Franke exchange contracts at Dubai Airshow 2021.
Credit: Jens Flottau/Aviation Week Network

DUBAI—Ever since Airbus outlined its post-pandemic production ramp-up plans, the manufacturer has been facing opposition from many sides. Some of its suppliers have argued that, having just ramped down, it’s too much on an ask for them to ramp back up again too quickly. Lessors AerCap and Air Lease Corp. have publicly doubted whether the market can sustain the kind of output increases that Airbus has in mind: going from around 40 narrowbody aircraft per month—minus delays caused by production and supplier issues—to 65 within roughly the next 18 months and then raising that to well beyond 70 units.

The debate will continue. But the opening day of the Dubai Airshow provided Airbus with some arguments that it may be on the right track after all. Loyal customer and a specialist in surprise orders at the Dubai event, Indigo Partners announced another massive Airbus narrowbody order, this time for 255 A321neos. While most of the deliveries will only be a major factor for production from 2025 onwards, the endorsement from the blue-chip customer is highly welcome ammunition in Airbus’ struggle to convince customers and suppliers of its way of thinking.

The commitment also more than triples the number of firm net orders for the year 2021. Until the end of October, the OEM had collected just 125 net orders (after cancellations for 167 aircraft). Including the Indigo Partners deal, Airbus now stands at 380 aircraft for the year. That takes Airbus past Boeing for the moment. Its competitor had collected 373 net orders in the first 10 months of the year.

The new deal comes on top of a firm commitment for 430 A320neo family aircraft agreed by Indigo Partners at the 2017 Dubai Airshow.

Airbus did not miss the opportunity to stress the point that its production rates are based on true demand, and its aircraft deliveries are generally not forced onto otherwise unwilling customers, but reflect true interest. Airbus Chief Commercial Officer Christian Scherer said that, while Airbus in general was a “flexible company” as shown during the pandemic, production for the next few years is now essentially sold out, and that is with its planned rate increases. Asked whether he would like to push output even higher quicker if he could, Scherer had a clear answer: “Yes.”

Indigo Partners Managing Partner Bill Franke said “we have a distinct view of the market. We want to be early in the process.” For the US-based private equity fund, that means securing production slots for its ULCCs further out before they become unavailable. Scherer insisted that Airbus is not prioritizing making gains in market share.

One effect to be watched is whether other airlines competing with the four carriers in the fund now feel forced to accelerate their own order plans in order to not lose the ability to respond to the growth of their competitors.

The Indigo Partners order is for the four airlines in which the fund holds stakes: Wizz Air, Frontier Airlines, Mexico-based Volaris and Chile-based JetSMART. Wizz Air is taking the largest share of the additional aircraft (102 units), Frontier gets 91, Volaris 39 and JetSMART 23. The deal includes 29 A321XLRs of which 27 will be operated by Wizz Air and two by JetSMART. Volaris and JetSMART will convert previous orders for 38 A320neos to A321neos.

On top of the new orders, Wizz Air has outstanding deliveries for another 36 A320neos and 199 A321neos, Volaris has 93 A320/A321neos and JetSMART 75. Frontier’s earlier contracted deliveries include 58 A320neos and 85 A321neos.

Wizz Air CEO Joszef Varadi noted that his carrier was the first low-cost airline to have committed to the A321XLR. Even before the latest deal, Wizz Air was due to receive 20 XLRs. Varadi confirmed that its new base in Abu Dhabi, where operations started earlier this year, will be “one of the recipients” of the aircraft since “it is a great base.” The longest-range version of the A321XLR would essentially allow Wizz Air Abu Dhabi to fly to all European destinations and cover a large part of Asia. JetSMART CEO Estuardo Ortiz said his airline will use the aircraft up to the Caribbean and U.S. destinations.

Jens Flottau

Based in Frankfurt, Germany, Jens is executive editor and leads Aviation Week Network’s global team of journalists covering commercial aviation.