Narrowbody operators rarely switch manufacturer when refreshing fleets, yet Mexican low-cost carrier (LCC) VivaAerobus has done exactly that with an order for 52 A320s, 40 of which are for the forthcoming A320neo.
The A320s will be delivered from 2014 to 2021 and will displace VivaAerobus’ ageing 737 Classics, just as Turkish LCC Pegasus will eventually replace its 737-800s with new Airbus models.
One could argue that VivaAerobus’ choice is a less painful blow to Boeing than Pegasus’ defection: the Mexican carrier is giving up older equipment, after all, and its order is much smaller.
Yet it also represents a competitive takeover of what is close to home territory for Boeing.
The main players in Mexico’s domestic airline scene are mainline operators Aeromexico and its regional subsidiary Aeromexico Connect, which control 34 per cent of the market between them, plus budget airlines Interjet, Volaris and VivaAerobus, which have 25, 23 and 14 per cent, respectively.
Of these, only Aeromexico will operate Boeing narrowbodies in a few years’ time. All the budget carriers fly A320-family aircraft; Aeromexico Connect uses Embraers; and Interjet will soon begin receiving Superjet regional aircraft in numbers to add to its Airbus fleet.
VivaAerobus, which is owned by Mexican transport group IAMSA and the family originally behind Ireland’s Ryanair (which uses 737s), will use its new aircraft to drive market share towards 25 per cent by 2021, both by taking passengers from competitors and by luring new flyers away from Mexico’s road system.
At some point it will start adding to its present total of three international routes, which will certainly mean more connections to the United States, adding to the growing ubiquity of the A320 in low-cost operations there.
The 737MAX was always going to be hamstrung in its battle with the A320neo by Boeing’s dithering over its launch. It has racked up a sizeable backlog anyway, but Boeing desperately needs to secure some first-time orders from new operators to prevent Airbus dominating next decade’s low-cost airline market.