Late last month Allegiant announced plans to acquire twelve new Airbus A320s. Airlines make fleet announcements often, but this one was of particular significance for a number of reasons.
Allegiant’s order for new A320s:
First, this order for brand-new planes, direct from Airbus, signals a change in standard operating procedure for the Las Vegas-based ultra-low-cost carrier (ULCC). Historically, Allegiant had shirked the trend of its ULCC peers, both domestically and abroad, of adopting fuel-efficient, modern aircraft. Instead, the airline has had a well-known preference for less costly mid-to-late life secondhand McDonnell Douglas MD-80 series planes. Cheaper planes equate to lower fares, and higher margins. This concept is not new; many budget carriers have used that model and benefited greatly from it (some have not). Allegiant is no exception. The airline is so well known for this preference, in fact, that few realize that the airline began acquiring Airbus aircraft in 2013. I myself was surprised to learn that the number of available seat miles flown by Allegiant’s Airbus fleet is nearly tied with that of their larger McDonnell Douglas fleet. Jude Bricker, Allegiant Travel Company senior vice president of planning, confirms expectations that the Airbus fleet will tip the scales by the close of 2016.
Older, used Airbus planes are known for being attractively priced. This is something Allegiant saw as early as 2012 when the airline announced plans to acquire its first batch of A319s. Then-President Andrew C. Levy stated, “A319 asset values have significantly declined and now mirror the environment we saw when we first began buying MD-80s.” While Airbus has focused much of its attention on pushing its newer and higher priced NEO (new engine option) models, it seems existing Airbus variants and future current engine option (CEO) deliveries are well positioned to become as ubiquitous as the much loved, budget friendly, long-lived MD-80s they are slowly but steadily replacing.
Allegiant’s newest (employee-approved) livery iteration:
Alongside this announcement, the airline unveiled plans for an incremental livery modification. Two final contenders were chosen, and employees were given an option to vote on which would be adopted.
Which did the employees choose?
From a design perspective, both liveries are incremental adjustments over the existing “Sunburst Tail” livery. After a quick polling period, the airline quietly announced that the new livery will be comprised of the forward leaning sun-stripes, represented by concept “A” above.
The choice will likely come as a relief to enthusiasts (this writer included) who have a general distaste for the growing proliferation of “Eurowhite” liveries which have slowly crept into the North American skies. However, more non-white paint and increased complexity typically equates to higher costs, and longer paint shop time, something Allegiant and their industry peers have become experts at avoiding.
Allegiant has in the past struggled with updated liveries, such as the “Travel is our deal” iteration. The photo above, taken in November 2013 shows a (then) newly acquired, and partially painted A319 used to inaugurate service from the small Kansas town of Manhattan to Phoenix, Arizona. N310NV continued to fly with partial paint for nearly a year before finding the time to visit the shop for completion.
Upon contacting the airline for comment on the updated livery and roll-out plans, Brandon Myers, Public Relations Specialist confirmed the newest iteration of the livery will be used as the go-forward standard for future deliveries, including the 12 new A320 CEOs. While a timeline for receiving these new planes is not yet available, the company has shared their aggressive plans to transition to an Airbus-only airline by 2019 on at least a few occasions.
In any case, there is no better time to get out and enjoy the excitement of flying on a classic “mad dog.” Do it while you still can; the MD-80’s days are limited.