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An American A330-200 at Charlotte Douglas International Airport (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Craig Fischer)

American Will Not Fly Its A330s Until 2022

In an internal memo to employees, American Airlines announced that it will move its Airbus A330-200 fleet into long-term storage until at least 2022 as demand for flights has plummeted, making the jet’s operation too costly on both long-haul and domestic routes. American has already parked around 450 planes and accelerated the retirements of several fleets, including the Airbus A330-300, as demand for travel has plummeted by nearly 95% amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“Given the current depressed forecast for international demand and no opportunities to profitably use the fleet domestically, we have made the difficult decision to place all of our A330-200 aircraft in long-term storage,” said Kimball Stone, American’s Senior Vice President of Flight Operations, in an internal memo to pilots.

Routes that the A330-200 has generally operated will now be served by Boeing 777s and 787s. This could potentially lead to scheduling issues as crews and aircraft will need to be repositioned to react to the airline’s decision.

American says it will release additional information about these retirements in the coming days and weeks. 

The airline’s decision is a considerable statement about when it expects demand for international flights to recover. The airline believes that demand for international travel will not rebound until at least 2022 to the extent that it can put dozens of airplanes in storage without losing money. Only time will tell if the airline will be able to take its A330-200s out of storage in 2022 or if it will need to store them for longer. 

American’s current timeline nonetheless holds out hope that the aviation industry, and indeed the world economy, will have at least somewhat returned to normalcy, in 2022, a prediction in line with estimates that it may take 12-18 months to develop, test, and release viable vaccines or treatments for the novel coronavirus. Data suggest that people will not feel comfortable traveling for nonessential purposes again until such a treatment is available, so 2022 is the earliest that American can feasibly consider resuming A330-200 service using current data.

Before the coronavirus-induced travel shutdown, American flew its A330-200s out of its bases in Philadelphia and Charlotte to destinations like Madrid, London, Paris, Munich, Rome and Prague in addition to a number of Caribbean destinations. The aircraft also served a number of high-demand domestic routes.

American will likely fly its 777s on higher-demand routes, like to London, as travel returns so it can take advantage of higher load factors, boosted by passengers connecting to or from main hubs. The 787, which is smaller than the 777, will be used on lower-demand services that can’t profitably fill a 777.

Should international travel not rebound to a profitable level by 2022, American may consider retiring its A330-200s in favor of simplifying its fleets at a time when doing so is easier than ever. As the airline takes delivery of newer aircraft over the next few years, it will be easier for them to train idle crew and simply put the new airplanes into service when routes are relaunched.

“The whole point of simplifying fleets is to drive the cost structure [down] to where it needs to be,” said Derek Kerr, American’s Chief Financial Officer. He warned that the A330-200s, as well as a portion of American’s Boeing 737-800 fleet, could be retired early should demand rise too slowly.

The A330-200 might not be a prime candidate for retirement soon; the planes American operates were delivered to US Airways, which merged into American, between 2009 and 2014. The airplanes are still very young for aircraft used on international services. Should it be retired early, though, American will only fly two long-haul aircraft types, the 777 and 787, after the pandemic, cutting its long-haul fleet effectively in half.

For now, American is resuming its international services month by month. Some South American flights set to come back in May have been delayed to June, and other international offerings have also been either delayed or seen capacity decreases.

John McDermott
John McDermott
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