Russia’s national carrier, Aeroflot, is to expand its Airbus fleet with plans to introduce nine A320neo Family jets in a deal worth over $870 million. But the flag carrier is lagging behind with the introduction of the “neo” compared to some other Russian airlines, and has so far expressed no interest in the Boeing 737 MAX, while its low-cost subsidiary awaits deliveries of the planes by year’s end.

According to state procurement documents, Aeroflot will order six medium-haul A320neos (A320-251N) from the European manufacturer. The two-part bidding process, launched on July 15, 2019, includes leasing six aircraft for a 12 year-term. Both contracts are worth $566.4 million total.

Earlier in the month, on July 5, 2019, Aeroflot announced a tender for three A321neo jets (A321-251NX), planning to lease the aircraft for 12 years in a deal worth $304.2 million, Russian Aviation Insider reports. This takes the airline’s current orders for the type to nine jets for a total sum of $870.6 million. All nine A321neo planes are to be delivered in 2020.

The new planes will be an addition to Aeroflot’s already substantial Airbus fleet, which does not include the new generation A320 Family jets. The only Russian carrier currently operating the “neo” is S7 Airlines, one of the largest airlines in the country. The carrier received its first A320neo in 2017 and now flies both the A320neo and A321neo variants.

As for Aeroflot, the airline currently operates 78 A320ceo as well as 35 A321ceo jets. The flag carrier also flies 17 long-haul A330-300 planes, according to Airbus orders and deliveries log (as of June 30, 2019). Aside of these, Aeroflot operates Boeing 777-300ER and 737-800 airliners, but does not have any 737 MAX planes on order, as Boeing’s order book (through June 2019) shows.  

The ‘MAX’ issue

Back in March 2019, in the wake of the MAX groundings following a second deadly crash involving the aircraft, RT news channel reported that contracts for the purchase of several dozen of aircraft by Russian airlines, including Aeroflot’s low-cost subsidiary Pobeda, S7 Airlines, Ural Airlines and UTair, had been suspended indefinitely. Aeroflot’s CEO Vitaly Savelyev had gone as far as to say that the company would refuse operating MAX planes ordered by Pobeda.

Pobeda is expecting delivery of its first Boeing 737 MAX in November 2019, latest information by Reuters indicates. State news agency Interfax has recently reported that Ural Airlines is expecting to receive its first MAX in December 2019, and is also awaiting delivery of its first A320neo this August, with four more of the type to be received by the end of the year. Meanwhile, UTair Aviation has 28 unfilled orders for the MAX, Boeing’s log indicates. S7 Airlines states it was the first carrier in Russia to receive the MAX in autumn of 2018.

‘Made in Russia’

Earlier this year, state-owned Aeroflot received formal approval by the Russian government to acquire up to 100 Boeing and Airbus aircraft, to be delivered from 2019 to 2023. The national carrier was hence allowed to purchase 22 long-haul A350s together with 74 Airbus and Boeing aircraft of unspecified types, Russian Aviation Insider reported in April 2019. Airbus’ latest order summary shows the state carrier has 14 A350-900 planes on order.

Despite this interest in Western-manufactured aircraft, according to its new strategy, Aeroflot plans to increase the number of Russian-built planes in its mainline fleet by up to 190 jets by 2023, Russian Aviation Insider added. This includes an order for 100 Russian-made Sukhoi Superjet 100 aircraft, in addition to the 49 SSJ100s the airline already has in its mainline fleet, as well as 50 of the medium-haul MC-21 passenger jets.

To make things even more interesting, the Boeing 737 is the main competitor to the Airbus A320 Family, and both types are considered as direct competitors to the in-development MC-21.

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Russian Prime Minister confirmed that the MC-21-300 program would be subsidized by the government through Rostec.