Airbus is poised to sign off on a new order for the A380 super jumbo with Skymark Airlines, a Japanese low-cost carrier, its top salesman, John Leahy, said Feb. 16 in Paris.
Speaking to a gathering of reporters sponsored by French aerospace journalists' association AJPAE, Leahy, Airbus’s chief operating officer for customers, said a purchase order would be signed shortly—perhaps as early as today—making Skymark the 19th customer for the ultra-widebody transport, after South Korea's Asiana Airlines, which committed to the aircraft at the end of January. Although he didn’t say how big the orders will be, low-cost carrier Skymark inked a letter of intent last November for four aircraft plus two options with the intention of converting the LOI into a firm order by spring.
Skymark—which would be the first airline from Japan and the first no-frills carrier to acquire the A380—said it would introduce the initial aircraft in spring 2014 for domestic services and the others in 2014-16 for domestic and long-haul flights. It has not divulged the configuration, but judging from Japanese experience with the Boeing 747, a high-density layout along the lines of the 840-seat configuration adopted by France’s Air Austral would be a likely choice.
With new orders expected from Qatar and other prospects in the pipeline, Leahy said he anticipates that 2011 will be “the year of the A380.”
He also predicted that the aircraft will serve as a beachhead for Airbus in Japan, which is still almost totally dominated by Boeing. One favorable factor, he said, is the gradual liberalization of Japan’s airline market, which is enabling fledgling carriers, such as Skymark, which has a less conservative bent than established carriers Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways, to enter the marketplace. Another is the introduction of the A380 by international carriers flying into Japan.
Separately, Leahy said Airbus engineers are studying the business case for re-engining the A318 to the A320 New Engine Option design, which was launched in December and has been adopted by Virgin America and India’s IndiGo. Right now, in addition to the A320, plans are to extend the NEO re-engining program to the A321 and the A319, in that order, and there is strong pressure, especially from Airbus’s corporate jet operations, to do so with the A318 as well. “But the market will decide,” he said.
The Airbus executive also reaffirmed that Airbus would have several hundred orders for the A320NEO by the Paris Air Show in June, and that Boeing will ultimately be forced to re-engine its 737 because of the low level of maturity of radically new powerplants capable of supporting a business case for a clean-sheet aircraft design.