The Beijing, China-based airline ordered additional Airbus A320neo aircraft from GECAS’ subsidiary AFS Investments, as first reported by Reuters. Air China already operates 42 Airbus A320neo family aircraft, including the A321neo, Airbus Orders & Deliveries data, as of February 28, 2021, shows. No outstanding orders are attributed to the airline.
Deliveries of the 18 A320neos are expected to be completed by 2022, indicating a very short timeline for the delivery of aircraft. Possibly, the narrow-bodies are white-tail aircraft that Airbus manufactured for an airline that was unable or was unwilling to take them.
Another possibility is that airlines are prematurely ending their leases on aircraft due to the financial strain caused by the pandemic. For example, an Airbus A320neo (registered as VP-CZE) was previously operated by the struggling Mexican airline Interjet. However, the aircraft was re-registered under its current tail number VP-CZE and stored at Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO), in Costa Rica, under the ownership of GECAS, ch-aviation data shows.
Still, the order marks the first Airbus order by a Chinese carrier since 2019. In January 2020, China Aircraft Leasing Company (CALC) ordered 40 Airbus A321neo aircraft, with no attached customer to the order at that time.
For the competing Boeing 737 MAX, the Chinese market has been a struggle. While aviation authorities across the globe, including the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), have ungrounded the aircraft, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) is yet to do so. In early-March 2021, the CAAC still expressed its concerns regarding the aircraft.
The last time a China-based airline ordered the Boeing 737 MAX was in September 2016, when Donghai Airlines signed up for 25 aircraft of the type.