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Aircraft mega-deals prompt bubble warning from aviation industry veterans

The 500-jet Airbus purchase unveiled by IndiGo extends the backlog at India's largest carrier to about 1,000 undelivered aircraft

Aviation sector

Photo: Bloomberg

Bloomberg

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By Julie Johnsson

In less than a year, the global aviation industry has gone from near annihilation to exuberant enthusiasm. Fleet groundings and huge losses have given way to massive profits, and airlines are outdoing one another with record orders.
The industry’s newfound swagger was on full display Monday, when Indigo agreed to buy 500 Airbus SE jets, eclipsing a record set only months ago by Air India. Those add to huge purchases by Ryanair Holdings Plc and Saudi startup Riyadh Air earlier this year, with announced deals approaching 1,500 aircraft.

But while one group of executives flex their corporate muscle, other industry veterans warn that the market is showing signs of overheating.

“We have players flooding the market with a huge number of planes, I just hope that they’re doing this right,” said Akbar Al Baker, chief executive officer of Qatar Airways.

Al Baker is a prominent customer of both Boeing Co. and Airbus, with a long track record of striking his own splashy deals. So is Steve Udvar-Hazy, the aircraft leasing pioneer and co-founder of Air Lease Corp. 

“It’s a little bit of a herd mentality that’s not justified by economics or reality,” Udvar-Hazy said in an interview at the Paris Air Show. “But this is normal in the airline industry.”

Both say they’re interested in topping up on already thick order books — around 400 planes in the case of Los Angeles-based Air Lease. Al Baker, for his part, said he’s not in a rush.

East-West Hubs
 
The two men have been upstaged by airlines planning on explosive growth at the travel crossroads of Asia and Europe. The order flurry, which started as the travel industry first recovered from Covid-19 in the US two years ago, has left Boeing’s 737 Max largely sold out deep into 2028, and Airbus will have few delivery spots open before 2030.

Getting hold of the ordered aircraft also won’t be easy. Both Airbus and Boeing are struggling to boost output as they continue to struggle with supply-chain issues and a lack of skilled labor.

But airlines worry that if they don’t order soon, they’ll have to join the back of a line that’s only growing longer, potentially missing out on a travel boom that shows no signs of abating.

“They’re like kids in a candy shop,” Udvar Hazy said of the buying frenzy. “That’s the airline industry.”

The 500-jet Airbus purchase unveiled by IndiGo extends the backlog at India’s largest carrier to about 1,000 undelivered aircraft. 

Still more transactions are behind hashed out in bargaining sessions at the industry’s main event, which alternates between Paris and London. Turkish Air is mulling a 600-jet deal, while Saudi Arabia’s upstart Riyadh Air considers adding as many as 400 narrowbodies.

“We’re always in the market, but we’re not going to do irrational large orders just for the sake of getting publicity,” Udvar-Hazy said.

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First Published: Jun 19 2023 | 10:36 PM IST

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