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This Airline May Overtake American Airlines for the World's Largest Fleet

Sept. 17, 2018
3 min read
This Airline May Overtake American Airlines for the World's Largest Fleet
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One of the world's largest airlines has plans to grow signifigantly larger. China Southern wants to quadruple its fleet size and take on more partnerships to become a superpower in the world of aviation.

China Southern CEO Tan Wangeng said that he wants to grow the airline's fleet to 2,000 aircraft by 2035. The SkyTeam carrier currently has about 786 passenger and cargo aircraft.

“We plan to have 1,000 aircraft by 2020 and by 2035 it will increase to 2,000,” Tan told the World Routes conference.

For context, American Airlines is currently the largest airline by fleet size, revenue and destinations served — with a total of about 948 aircraft it currently operates. Bloomberg says that number will fall to about 935 after new aircraft are delivered and others are retired. This means China Southern may have the world's largest fleet of passenger aircraft in 2020.

Is it even possible to grow that large, and that quickly? In March, Flight Global reported that the airline is supposed to receive 309 aircraft through 2020 and that in 2018 alone its expected to take delivery of 115 jets including "61 Boeing 737-800s, 39 Airbus A320 family jets, 10 787-9s and five A330-300s."

Other Chinese carriers like China Eastern and Xiamen all have aggressive growth plans due to the explosion in demand for air travel by Chinese citizens.

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“By 2020 there will be 200 million outbound tourists from China. This provides us with a lot of opportunities for development,” Tan said.

However, the airline is eyeing to work with budget airlines who are becoming bigger and bigger players in China and Southeast Asia.

“All major airlines need partners and we are looking into the possibility of establishing more joint ventures. We haven’t tried with low-cost carriers yet, but we are considering how to cooperate with them,” Tan said.

Last week Boeing said it predicts China Southern will purchase 7,690 new jets over the next two decades. China is getting into the aircraft manufacturing industry itself — state-owned firm Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China delivered its first smaller regional jet in 2015 and will deliver its first mid-sized aircraft (C919) by 2021. The C919 is comparable in size to a Boeing 737 and it may be an aircraft that China Southern purchases one-day.

TPG flew in China Southern First Class aboard the carrier's 777 and praised it for good award availability — although there were many areas where the carrier could improve.

H/T: Reuters

Featured image by Expect more inter-airline investments like American's recent stake in China Southern. Photo by Alberto Riva / The Points Guy