Airlines continue to defy the notion of austerity during economic hard times, as Boeing and Airbus collect a bounty of orders during a record spending spree for narrowbody airplanes.
Last week, for instance, Norwegian Air Shuttle (NAS) signed separate contracts with Airbus and Boeing covering a total of 222 new airplanes, including 100 Boeing MAX 8s, 22 Boeing 737-800NGs and 100 Airbus A320neos. Norwegian said the $21.6 billion worth of deals, which include purchase rights on another 100 MAX 8s and 50 Neos, amounts to the largest aircraft order in European history.
Days later, AviancaTaca agreed to the single largest firm order in terms of unit sales in Latin American history, when it signed a purchase agreement for 33 A320neos and 18 standard A320s. The order follows an MOU signed during the 2011 Paris Air Show, when AviancaTaca revealed plans to expand its operational footprint in Latin America and maintain one of the youngest fleets in the region.
Meanwhile, the Norwegian agreements make NAS the European launch customer for the Boeing 737 MAX and a first-time Airbus customer. The new Airbus aircraft will feature a single-class cabin layout, seating some 180 passengers. Norwegian plans to announce its engine choice for the Neos at a later date. Boeing offers only the CFM Leap-1B for the 737 MAX.
“Today is a historic day for Norwegian,” said Norwegian CEO Bjørn Kjos. “Norwegian has now reached a size where we will benefit from having two suppliers, both in terms of ensuring adequate flight capacity, flexibility and competition between two manufacturers,” said Kjos.
Of course, suppliers for both Boeing and Airbus, many common to each, will face a challenge to keep pace with accelerating production rates. Last week GE-Snecma joint venture CFM International announced a record year in 2011, when it registered orders for 1,500 commercial, military and spare CFM56 engines and commitments for 3,056 Leap engines for a combined value of $51.7 billion at list prices. Plans call for the Leap engine—chosen as the exclusive powerplant for the Boeing 737 MAX and one of the choices for both the A320neo and Comac C919—to enter service in 2016.