Lufthansa: 'A bit early' to order A320neo

Washington DC
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Lufthansa is in the early stages of evaluating the Airbus A320neo and the head of the carrier's fleet management group does not expect to place an order for the new-generation narrowbody in the near-term.

Executive vice-president of Lufthansa Group Fleet Management Nico Bucholz confirms he is evaluating the A320neo. But he says it is "a bit early" for the German-based airline group to consider placing an order.

"It's something that if all the elements are right we would consider but again it's a bit early," Bucholz explains. "They've launched it in December and we need a couple of fixed points of focus to decide on what we could do with that aircraft and where it is actually beneficial."

Bucholz says a key factor in any new narrowbody aircraft evaluation at Lufthansa is what range the aircraft is optimised for because Lufthansa uses its current fleet of A320s and 737s on relatively shorter sectors compared to other operators.

"We have in the group some 737 new generations. We have some 737 classics. The 737 classics are outperformed by far by the new generation of the A320s. [But] if you don't need that sort of operational capacity obviously you are paying for it on each flight," Bucholz says, referring to the extra range.

"That's why we still have the classics. You really need to see if the Neo just gives me that much more of what you don't need."

He adds that generally when Lufthansa looks at new aircraft the main question is "do we get a tangible operational, environmental and economical benefit?"

As a customer of the Pratt & Whitney PW1524G-powered Bombardier CSeries, Lufthansa is already familiar with Pratt & Whitney geared turbofan technology (GTF), which is also featured in one of the two engine options available for the A320neo. Lufthansa also has a seat on the customer focus teams for the A320neo and its engines, which include the PW1100G and CFM International Leap-X.

One of the main questions airlines have had of the A320neo as they evaluate the new aircraft are engine maintenance costs. Both engine manufacturers have said they expect lower maintenance costs compared with current generation engines although the core of the new engines will run hotter. But some carriers including Lufthansa are not yet convinced.

"The only thing I see at the moment is the fuel burn. The maintenance costs I'm yet to be convinced," Bucholz says.

For the CSeries, Lufthansa committed early, agreeing to purchase 30 aircraft as soon as the programme was launched in 2008. But Bucholz says for the CSeries Lufthansa had a tight deadline for its decision because it needed to select a replacement for the BAE Systems Avro RJ100s operated by its Swiss International Air Lines subsidiary.

"We needed something to replace it," Bucholz explains, referring to the Avro RJ100s. "And it was in a market segment where there were [no other alternatives]. There is the 737-500 but they wouldn't be available as a good replacement for those Avros and all those other aircraft [types] have too much range."