Air Canada prepares for MAX flexibility, efficiency

Air Canada is preparing to renew its narrow-body fleet with Boeing 737 MAX jets, underscoring the carrier’s mission to find the best aircraft match for a wide range of routes.

Two Air Canada planes in flight
Air Canada is scheduled to receive its first two Boeing 737 MAX 8s by the end of 2017. The MAX 8s and larger MAX 9s will replace the airline’s Airbus A320 and A321 aircraft. Possible routes include sun destinations in the winter and transcontinental flights in the summer. Boeing Image
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Air Canada first announced its purchase of 61 new narrow-body planes in late 2013, placing orders for 33 Boeing 737 MAX 8s and 28 of the larger MAX 9s.

The airline is scheduled to receive its first two MAX 8s by the end of 2017 and another 16 of the MAX 8s in 2018. The remaining 43 jets in the order are slated to be filled between 2019 and 2021.

“It’s about matching supply with demand–putting the right aircraft on a route,” said Robert Kokonis, president of airline consulting firm AirTrav Inc. “Airlines are constantly juggling fleet allocation.”

In 2007, Air Canada began gradually adding Boeing 777s to its wide-body fleet, followed by the debut of Boeing 787 Dreamliners starting in 2014.

Air Canada has eight wide-body Airbus A330s but the fleet of wide-bodies is dominated by Boeing 777s and 787s.

“The backbone of the narrow-body fleet will be Boeing as well. The airline is basically making its Boeing footprint a lot larger,” said Kokonis.

Kokonis noted that the MAX 8 will replace the Airbus A320 and the MAX 9 will supplant the Airbus A321. He added that the Bombardier C Series narrow-body jet will replace Air Canada’s Airbus A319s and Embraer 190s.

Air Canada expects to receive the first of its 45 firm orders for the C Series in late 2019.

In the meantime, the MAX models will be the focus of attention for narrow-body deliveries.

“The MAX airplane’s capability and range are something we haven’t had in a narrow-body aircraft of that size,” said Duncan Bureau, Air Canada’s vice-president of global sales. “We are extremely pleased with the capability of the aircraft.”

Bureau said the MAX will give Air Canada greater flexibility in route planning, noting that the new planes are lighter and have more efficient engines than the current Airbus models in the fleet.

“The overall economics are significantly better,” he said. “The MAX allows us more versatility.”

He envisages the plane taking on routes such as Victoria-Toronto, Victoria-Montreal and Calgary-Halifax. Trans-border routes into the United States are also on the radar, as are destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean.

Klaus Goersch, who served as Air Canada’s chief operating officer for more than four years until he left in April, said the MAX will be a great fit for the airline.

“The MAX is more efficient. It flies faster and higher, and is more efficient than our current Airbus planes,” he said in a recent interview while still Air Canada’s COO. “The mission profile of the 737 MAX is essentially the same mission profile of an Airbus narrow-body. We can use it to sun destinations in the winter time, and we can use it transcontinental in the summer time. They can even do Europe and Hawaii.”

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In general, Boeing has said the MAX 8 could seat up to 200 passengers while the MAX 9 could accommodate up to 220 travellers.

During a conference call with industry analysts in February, Air Canada chief executive officer Calin Rovinescu said the seating configuration for the carrier’s MAX orders had yet to be finalized.

“Think of it as replacing fundamentally our Airbus narrow-body fleet,” said Rovinescu.

The mainline will be incorporating the MAX models while phasing out Airbus planes.

Air Canada’s Rouge leisure operation recently had 21 Boeing 767 wide-bodies, 20 Airbus A319s and five A321s in the narrow-body category.

The mainline’s fleet includes 13 Boeing 767s. “We expect them to continue to perform well into the early part of the next decade,” said Ben Smith, Air Canada’s president of passenger airlines.

WestJet Airlines Ltd. is also awaiting MAX aircraft, including the smaller MAX 7. WestJet expects the first of its 65 MAX orders by the end of 2017, with the deliveries extending through 2027.

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