Russian flag carrier Aeroflot is seeking to “right-size” its future fleet through the recent cancellation of Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 orders placed in 2007 in favor of the larger 777-300ER and A330-200/300, the only two widebody passenger types in today’s inventory.
Although Aeroflot has long sought to ditch the smaller twins, not until January 11 did Airbus Commercial Aircraft president Fabrice Brégier publicly speak of Aeroflot’s cancellation of an order for eight for A350-800s. He did not, however, say what would happen to the remaining 14 A350-900s from the same contract.
Until recently, Aeroflot remained among two customers (Asiana Airlines still holds an order for eight A350-800s) on the -800’s orderbook despite reports that Airbus discontinued its development in 2014. That same year, Airbus officials who arrived in Moscow aboard an experimental A350-900 on a summer worldwide tour insisted that Aeroflot remained on the customer list, and that deliveries would commence in 2018.
Meanwhile, the airframer’s site still lists the A350-800 among other versions, and describes it as “the shortest fuselage version in Airbus’s A350 XWB family of mid-sized widebody airliners,” seating 280 passengers in a typical three-class cabin, with a flight range of 8,200 nautical miles. Using a 6.3-meter longer fuselage, the larger A350-900 carries 325 seats and has collected orders for 599 airplanes, 64 of which have entered service. The A350-1000 stretch, still in flight tests, has drawn orders for 211 copies.
Speaking to AIN last year, Aeroflot deputy CEO and flight director Igor Chalik said the airline still hadn’t decided whether or not to convert the order for the -800 into commitments for the larger versions and that a determination would depend “on real passenger flows and their dynamics.” He described the A330neo as more appealing due to its improved performance and the possibility of an easier conversion for current A330 crews. Airbus offers the A330-800 with 257 seats and the A330-900 with 287. It expects the -900 to enter service in 2018.
Since Aeroflot awarded Boeing the initial contract for 22 Dreamliners, the airline made repeated attempts to revise the terms and introduce amendments. Management appealed to the shareholders—and won their approval—for postponement of earlier-scheduled A350 and 787 shipments to 2022 or even a later date.
In 2015 Aeroflot CEO Vitaly Saveliev said the airline might attempt to turn down both deals because neither of the manufacturers managed to run the programs on time, which resulted in extensive, repeated delays to original schedules. He argued that the air transportation market has changed much since the pre-world-wide-economic crisis in 2008, resulting in considerably different passenger flows, pricing, et cetera. Under the original contract for Boeing 787s, shipments to Aeroflot were supposed to start in 2016. The timing has changed several times since then. Most recent plans called for eight deliveries in 2019, and five aircraft annually thereafter.
However, in a surprise move late last year, Aeroflot shareholders approved of a deal with AviaCapital Service (ACS) on the transfer of purchase rights on 22 Boeing 787-8s. A leasing branch of Rostec, Russia’s largest industrial corporation, ACS holds Boeing 737NG/Max and Irkut MC-21 narrowbodies in its portfolio, and had never before considered larger jets.
One of the conditions calls for Boeing to pay back Aeroflot’s pre-payment, and for ACS to make a new prepayment of about $44 million. The deal needs the signature of the three parties to come into force. Another condition stipulates that ACS will not place the aircraft with the flag carrier or its subsidiaries.
Contract peculiarities might explain the different tactics used in ditching the two contracts. Getting rid of the Dreamliners deal proved difficult because of the legal issues, thus their purchase rights went to ASC, which had to inherit responsibilities for the Aeroflot contract as part of a bigger deal between Aeroflot, Rostec and Boeing. If Russian customers buy fewer Boeings, the U.S. airframe maker would likely buy less Russian titanium and locally made parts. In that sense, the Dreamliner deal appears one of convenience, to minimize risk and damages.
While Boeing lately has increased orders for Russian-made parts, Airbus’s acquisition arm in Germany stopped buying A320 components from Irkut, for example. Although the French arm still buys them, Airbus has in effect cut orders in half.
On Tuesday, Aeroflot reported that passenger traffic increased by 11 percent in 2016 to 29 million passengers, while the wider Aeroflot Group, which also includes carriers such as Podeba, Rossiya and Aurora, increased traffic by 10.3 percent to 43.4 million. Revenue passenger kilometers increased, respectively, by 11.6 percent and 14.8 percent and available seat kilometers climbed, respectively, by 8.9 percent and 14.8 percent. Passenger load factors also improved for both Aeroflot and the Aeroflot Group to just over 81 percent.