Airbus has worked its way to a substantial share of the Latin America and Caribbean market, but it is not resting on its laurels.

The airframer's president for Latin America and the Caribbean, Rafael Alonso, says Airbus hopes to announce an "important order" from the region by year-end. Alonso declines to elaborate but hints that the aircraft will likely be from the A320 family.

Flightglobal's Ascend Fleets database shows that Airbus now holds a 51% share of the aircraft fleet in Latin America and the Caribbean, testimony to the inroads the company has made in a region that was once dominated by rival Boeing.

Airbus made headlines last year when it won an order for 52 A320-family aircraft from Mexico's VivaAerobus after persuading the low-cost carrier to shed its all-Boeing fleet. The order is Airbus’s largest ever from a single Latin American carrier.

Alonso indicates that Airbus intends to win more of that market. "Back in the '90s, almost every single airline in the region was operating Boeing," he says. "And now we have 24 customers."

The A320 family is now the top aircraft type in the region, operating almost 30% of available seat-kilometres out of Latin America and the Caribbean, Flightglobal's Innovata data shows.

Alonso is particularly bullish on the A320neo, which has already been ordered by several Latin American carriers including LATAM Airlines Group, Avianca, Volaris and Interjet, among others. Airbus forecasts that a majority of the 2,300 new aircraft that the region will need over the next 20 years will be narrowbodies.

Riding on the VivaAerobus success, Airbus is hoping to gain new customers from Grupo Viva, a Panama City-based venture being launched by VivaAerobus owners Irelandia Aviation and Grupo IAMSA to expand the Viva brand in Latin America. Irelandia and IAMSA also have stakes in Medellin-based VivaColombia, itself an Airbus operator.

"We want to be the main supplier of aircraft [to Grupo Viva]," says Alonso. Earlier this year, Airbus and VivaAerobus disclosed plans for a training centre in Monterrey to serve the airline's pilots. Alonso says the centre is just one way of showing the airframer's commitment to Grupo Viva.

While Alonso acknowledges that Latin America remains predominantly a narrowbody market, Airbus sees some potential in sales of the A350 and the A330neo. Airbus formally announced the A330neo at the Farnborough Airshow in July, and Brazil's Azul has said it is interested in the aircraft. The carrier is adding its first widebodies to its fleet to begin international flights in December, and it has agreed to lease A330s and A350s.

"We are responding to requests of the airlines to present on the airplane [A330neo]," says Alonso. "We think it will sell very well in the region."

Besides Azul, Brazilian carriers TAM and Avianca Brazil have placed orders for the A350. TAM, which has orders for 27 A350-900s, will be the launch operator of the type in the Americas. It expects first delivery in late 2015. "We are getting everything ready so they can receive the aircraft and operate it in an efficient way," says Alonso.

Airbus has yet to win any orders for the biggest aircraft in its commercial product line: the A380. Alonso says it could be "a few years" before Latin American customers are ready to order the superjumbo. He says he believes the A380 could help airlines operating at congested airports such as those in Mexico City and Sao Paulo. Currently, a number of European airlines are operating Boeing 747s to these airports.

While Airbus has gained a substantial market share in Latin America, Alonso says more work can be done in the Caribbean, where Boeing remains on top. Alonso, pointing to the many state-owned carriers in the region, says it is challenging to persuade states to invest in new aircraft technology.

Flightglobal's Innovata data shows that almost 58% of ASKs operated out of the Caribbean in October were with Boeing aircraft.

"The Caribbean was what Latin America was like in the '80s," says Alonso. "We need to encourage them to start looking at new equipment and to renew their fleets."

Source: Cirium Dashboard