In defense of Joyce & Qantas fleet planning

Boeing 777-300ER first flight.jpgPhoto: Ken DeJarlais/Boeing.

When Boeing in the 1990s went to create its new long-haul twinjet, the 777, it took the hitherto unprecedented step of involving ten airlines in the aircraft’s design. All but one of those airlines would go on to order scores of 777s.

The standout? Qantas.

In recent years commentators have come down hard on that fact, saying Qantas should have ordered the 777. On other aircraft–767-400s, the A380, 747X–they vary their opinion, but for the 777 they are resolute.

Normally this type of banter is confined to internet outlets, but Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce has strong words for armchair fleet planners.

I have seen some speculation that Qantas leaders made an error back in 2000 and 2005 by committing the Group to the latest and best aircraft types in the A380s and the B787s. Don’t believe it.

(I suspect Joyce’s comment, made last Thursday at the Melbourne Press Club, was sparked by an article in The Age about how the carrier decided to order A380s, information made public via the carrier’s lawsuit against Rolls-Royce. Coincidentally I had a post at the same time on the same topic, but I digress.)

To end the debate, and defend Joyce and Qantas’s fleet planning, let’s go back to November 2000 when Qantas requested approval to its board to purchase A380s.

A380 nose.JPGThe aircraft would “address slot, curfew and commercial scheduling limitations at Sydney, London, Los Angeles and Narita”, the request says.

The A380 would also “improve existing payload-limited sectors such as Los Angeles-Sydney and Singapore-London,” the request says. Qantas initially planned for the A380s to “provide international capacity growth at approximately 5% per annum”.

A 777 of any variant could not provide that in 2000 and still cannot today. That is why Singapore Airlines uses its A380s to LHR, Emirates also to LHR, Singapore and Emirates to SYD, and Air France and Singapore Airlines to NRT. True: those carriers also operates sizable 777-300ER fleets. (More shortly.)

When Qantas inked its deal with Airbus in 2000 to take advantage of soon-ending launch discounts, the 777-300ER was ordered by only a handful of customers for a handful of jets. It would not be until the middle of the decade the -300ER started to boom and took over the -200ER as the most popular 777 variant.

By then a 777 sub-fleet would not have suited the Qantas network: too much aircraft domestically, too little for slot-restricted routes (not as big a concern to V Australia, the 777-300ER Pacific operator). Plus Qantas had a growing A330 fleet, no doubt an A380 delay party favour from Airbus. The 777′s only hope was the -200LR for non-stop flights to London, which Qantas calculated the aircraft could not perform without load restrictions.

jetstar-international-787-8.jpgThe 787 was a clearer shot. It had no competitor and will now have a few year’s advantage on the A350 XWB. An outstanding question is if the 787-8 will under-perform due to excess weight and thus if airlines should have waited for the 787-9, or consider the A350XWB.

What incites people’s comments about bad fleet planning at Qantas is the carrier’s old 747-400s and 767s. That is not Qantas’s fault. The carrier had a sound fleet plan: the last of Qantas’s 12 A380s were, at the time of the order, to be delivered in May 2009 (it now hopes to have 11 come August). The A380s would replace 747-400s, which in turn would allow for the retirement of classic 747s. Likewise 787s would replace 767s starting in 2008.

Then the A380 got delayed. Then again. And again. Ditto for the 787, times seven, and counting. Qantas took two bets on new jetliners and lost them both, but did not ignore triage.

Jetstar A330.jpgOverlooked is Jetstar’s eventual and savvy decision to stop waiting for the 787 and instead launch routes, most recently to Singapore from Melbourne and Auckland, with A330s. No, Jetstar is not going to Europe–yet–with A330s, but it is a start.

The decision for Jetstar to proceed with A330 expansion vindicates itself, albeit without public acknowledgment, as the 787 continues to be delayed and AirAsia X grows, such as to Paris (a long-rumored eventual Jetstar destination) and Christchurch (not far south from Auckland).

Yes, AirAsia X is based in Kuala Lumpur and Jetstar has a base in Singapore, but the two are primarily hubs, not destinations. AirAsia X flights feed the regional AirAsia network the way long-haul Jetstar feeds its Asian and Australian networks, thus creating competition.

I have opined the above based on Qantas not adding destinations, and thus requiring more and/or different types of aircraft, as others charge Qantas should have. I’ll look at network next, and there I plan to give no defense to Qantas.

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One Response to In defense of Joyce & Qantas fleet planning

  1. Pete February 17, 2011 at 12:46 am #

    I dont think anyone ever said the 777 should have been ordered at the A380′s expense for routes like LAX and LHR like you suggest.

    The 777 would have been more useful for opening up or maintaining long range routes to destinations that will not support an A380 or 747. Currently QF only have 2 destinations in Europe and 3 in the USA. Some people feel that this might be different if 777′s had been in the fleet from the late 90′s onwards.

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