Air Canada outlines potential routes for its ‘game changing’ A220s

12 March, 2019

Air Canada is scheduled to accept delivery of just a single Airbus A220 in 2019, but the airline continues to study potential new routes for the narrowbody jet, perhaps still best known as the Bombardier CSeries.

Airbus has ensured it will maintain a solid relationship with Canada's largest airline. Now that the airframe has taken a controlling stake in the CSeries and rebranding it the A220, Airbus represents nearly 45% of the aircraft on order in Air Canada's mainline fleet.

CHART - Air Canada Group's outstanding aircraft commitments are almost equally split between Airbus and BoeingSource: CAPA - Centre for Aviation Fleet Database (as at 11-Mar-2019)

Air Canada's management has dubbed the A220 as "game changing" and new routes under analysis for the aircraft include Vancouver-Washington, DC, Montreal-Seattle, Toronto-San Jose (California) and Vancouver-Halifax, even down into Mexico, in addition to deploying the aircraft across its existing network.

The airline has calculated the A220 has a 12% unit cost advantage over the Embraer 190s the new narrobodies are replacing. In 3Q2018, Air Canada finalised the sale and leaseback of 25 Embraer 190s, and six of those aircraft were returned to the lessor in 2018. The company has stated it would continue operating the remaining 19 jets until they gradually exit its fleet in 2019 and 2020.

As its Boeing 737 MAX jets and A220s come online, and the Embraer 190s leave Air Canada's fleet, the airline has calculated its average mainline fleet age should fall to 8.5 years by YE2021. CAPA's fleet database shows the average age of the airline's mainline fleet is currently 13.3 years.

Air Canada has orders for 45 A220-300s. Its first aircraft is due for delivery in late 2019, but will not likely enter revenue service until Jan-2020. Its initial commitment for the type back in 2016 was seen to be driven not just by the obvious economic benefits of the type versus current generation aircraft already in operation with the carrier, but also the wider desire to support a local aircraft programme.

MAP - Air Canada is analysing a range of new city par options for the Airbus A220-300, which will debut in service in early 2020Source: Air Canada

Speaking at last month's Routes Americas 2019 network development forum in Quebec City, Ferio Pugliese, senior VP regional markets and government relations at Air Canada, remained tight-lipped on the A220 plans, but said: "This [aircraft] will open up a whole new host of opportunities throughout North America. Much of its work will be replacement flying, but stay tuned--there will be some new flying [as well]."

The A220-300 is not a natural successor to the Embraer 190 given that it will likely offering a 30% capacity rise in a configuration of around 135 seats. While supporting maturing markets, facilitating frequency growth and perhaps better matching capacity to demand in established markets, the type may allow Air Canada to offer an arrangement and product that will appeal to corporate travellers.

What is clear is the A220 has been selected for its range and the news routes that are under analysis highlights that selection and it will offer better economics in these markets than using larger narrowbodies. With high-yield US market at the forefront of Air Canada's mind with the aircraft, US airlines will surely be watching developments closely.