ANALYSIS: Which airlines might order aircraft in 2014?

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In ordering some 2,850 aircraft from Airbus and Boeing in 2013, airlines took decisive steps toward settling their fleet renewal plans.

Airbus secured 1,503 net orders last year, while Boeing won 1,355. The combined figure for the two manufacturers, of 2,858, was a record high for the industry.

So, after airlines continued their ordering spree in 2013, how much more fleet renewal work is still outstanding among the world's carriers?

ASIA-PACIFIC

Following Cathay Pacific’s order for 21 Boeing 777-9Xs in December 2013, making it the first Asia-Pacific carrier to order the type, other carriers in the region may want to lock in production slots for the advanced twinjet. Following Japan Airlines’ decision in 2013 to abandon its long-term loyalty to Boeing and order 31 Airbus A350s, Boeing will be very keen to sign up All Nippon Airways as a 777-X customer. The question, of course, is how bitter are ANA’s memories about the delays and problems with the introduction of the 787?

Other potential 777-X customers are Singapore Airlines, which is a major user of the 777-300ER, and Qantas Airways, which will eventually need to replace its ageing Boeing 747-400s. Given that Qantas has delayed its last batch of A380s, the chances of Australia’s flag carrier buying more superjumbos appears remote.

Indonesia’s Lion Group is a strong candidate to order more 787s. The Group’s full-service carriers, Malaysia’s Malindo and Indonesia’s Batik, have long-term plans to increase their international footprint, but the carrier only has five 787-8s in its orderbook. After last year's suggestions that it would order the CSeries, Lion Air has quietly backed away from this prospect.

Garuda has also said that it is looking to order over 200 aircraft. These will likely be either the 737 Max or A320neo for its narrowbody fleet, and the 787, 777 or A350 for longer routes.

Malaysia Airlines is tipped to soon announce an order to replace its 777-200ERs, with the A330-300HGW seen as the most likely candidate. It is also impossible to rule out a 777-X/A350-1000 order from Korean Airlines and China Airlines to replace their 747s. China Airlines is taking delivery of 10 777-300ERs from later this year but is also an A350-900 customer.

China Airlines and TransAsia will likely be ordering more narrowbodies for the launch of their low-cost carriers.

There are persistent rumours that Jet Airways is close to announcing a 737 Max deal, but there could be a surprise in store through the Etihad group purchase deal on A320neos.

It is all but inevitable that 2014 will bring orders from China for the A320neo and 737 Max. Boeing and Airbus have both secured orders that they are unable to announce yet because of China’s five-year economic plans. Spring Airlines should also order more A320s (30 or more) as the Chinese government is looking to relax rules on aircraft acquisition to encourage low-cost carriers. Airbus should also be securing a launch customer from China for its lower-weight A330.

EUROPE

Consolidation and a desire to secure early slots for new single-aisle aircraft have left few major European carriers out of the fleet-renewal rush.

Air France had been in discussions about the Airbus A320neo, but little progress has been evident during the French carrier’s restructuring efforts – a significant part of which has involved its short-haul network and the future role of Transavia.

British Airways parent IAG and Lufthansa Group have each placed significant long-haul and single-aisle orders, both for their mainline and short-haul operations.

Nordic operators Scandinavian Airlines, Finnair and Icelandair have stabilised their future fleet requirements, while Norwegian and the other primary unaligned European budget carriers – EasyJet, Ryanair and Pegasus Airlines – have also booked some 600 aircraft between them. Central European low-cost operator Wizz Air, which recently converted part of an Airbus A320 order to the larger A321, still has a backlog of some 70 aircraft.

Russia’s top three airlines – Aeroflot, Transaero and UTair – have all confirmed recent orders for substantial numbers of Western- and Russian-built aircraft, with Aeroflot intending to use much of its allocation to modernise the fleets of its newly consolidated carriers.

Turkish Airlines has continued a seemingly unstoppable growth curve, but the economic position of several other southeast European carriers – notably in Greece and the Balkans – means significant fleet shifts are unlikely, although the renewal at Air Serbia illustrates Etihad Airways’ spreading influence within Europe, where it has ties with Aer Lingus, Air Berlin and, potentially, Alitalia.

NORTH AMERICA

Likewise, after a busy 2013 when US carriers finalised regional fleets and several low-cost carriers placed orders for re-engined narrowbodies, 2014 is expected to bring less order activity among North American airlines.

In the USA, United Airlines is rumoured to be a possible candidate for a new 100-seater order. In late 2012, the Star Alliance carrier’s pilots ratified a new labour agreement which would allow for new small narrowbodies in its fleet.

Delta Air Lines, which ordered a longer-range version of the Airbus A330 last year, could place new widebody orders in the coming years to keep its fleet competitive, say analysts.

Air Canada made headlines in late 2013 when it opted for the Boeing 737 Max to replace its Airbus A320s, but has left the door open to another order to replace its smallest aircraft, the Embraer 190. Boeing is buying 20 of Air Canada’s 45 E-190s as part of the Max deal, which leaves 25 E-190s that the airline said it could replace with aircraft in the 100- to 150-seat range.

The region’s low-cost carriers are not expected to place fresh orders in 2014, although if 2013 was any indication, there could be more conversions of existing orders to larger variants. Last year, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines and Spirit Airlines all made swaps within A320 or 737 orders to opt for larger variants in the same family. Canada’s WestJet announced an order for the 737 Max in August 2013, which includes rights to switch to the larger Max 9.

LATIN AMERICA

Latin American airlines might not have ordered as many aircraft as their counterparts in other regions did in 2013, but VivaAerobus’ order of 52 A320 family aircraft – the largest Airbus purchase made by a single airline in Latin America – could be a sign of more to come.

Avianca Brazil is being courted by regional airframers as it mulls an order for as many as 30 aircraft, which it has said it hopes to finalise in 2014. Both Bombardier and Superjet have said publicly that they are wooing the airline to commit to a deal.

Panama’s Copa Airlines is expected to pull the trigger this year on the Boeing 737 Max, which it has planned to order for a while. Copa’s chief executive Pedro Heilbron told Flightglobal in November that an order is imminent in 2014.

Airframers are no doubt watching Latin American powerhouse LATAM Airlines Group closely, as the airline continues to study the regional market in Brazil. The airline’s senior executives have said there could be potential to operate regional aircraft in the region’s largest domestic market, particularly after the success demonstrated by Brazil’s Azul in its operations serving smaller niche markets in the country.

MIDDLE EAST

Large fleet agreements for Etihad Airways, Flydubai, Kuwait Airways, Qatar Airways and Emirates mean Saudi Arabian Airlines and EgyptAir are among the more likely candidates for near-term orders in the Middle East, with both having indicated a need for additional long-haul and single-aisle aircraft. Qatar, which committed to more aircraft amid the orders bonanza at November 2013's Dubai air show, is still to be drawn on whether to firm up its interest in Bombardier's CSeries.

El Al has yet to clarify its long-haul fleet selection, although Airbus will struggle to overturn the Israeli flag carrier’s traditional pro-Boeing stance.