The entry into service of eight next-generation Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft with South Africa’s private-sector Comair airline group will cut the airline’s fuel expenditure per seat by 15%. This was highlighted by Comair CEO Erik Venter at a recent press conference. (This assumes that the fuel price remains similar to what it currently is; if the fuel price increases, the savings will be greater.) The first of the 737 MAX 8s will be delivered next year.
Comair has already cut its fuel burn per seat by 54% since 2001. This has been one of the results of a continuous programme of modernisation of its all-Boeing 737 fleet, with the new models also bigger and carrying more passengers than their predecessors. This has resulted in the airline increasing, also since 2001, the number of passengers it carries by 155%.
The airline operates two brands, British Airways (in Southern Africa) and low-cost carrier Kulula. Divided between these brands is a fleet of 26 airliners, eight of which are leased and the remainder belonging to the group. The airline normally leases between one-third and one-half of its fleet, because of the flexibility this brings. On the other hand, the lessors make good margins, he quipped.
The current fleet is composed mainly of new-generation 737-800s (not to be confused with the next-generation MAX 8s), which have largely displaced the 737-400s (which, in turn, replaced the 737 ‘Classic’ models). The MAX 8s will see the end of the – 400s in Comair service.
“Our approach has been to phase in new aircraft, phase out old aircraft,” explained Venter. “Slow but steady, all the time.” Among other things, this ensured that aircraft had their mandatory checks at different times, avoiding service disruptions.
The new aircraft also have longer intervals between their maintenance periods and are easier to maintain, thus reducing the time for each maintenance period. This also cuts costs and increases efficiency.
“Airlines are ordering airplanes to replace their older airplanes,” observed Boeing International MD: Sub-Saharan Africa J Miguel Santos at the same press briefing. “You need to bring these new airplanes in. “They bring lower costs, lower fuel burn, [and] better service to customers . . . In the airline industry, scheduled reliability is so, so important . . . The 737 has the best scheduled reliability in the world – 99.7%”
The 737 MAX family is powered by the CFM LEAP-1B engine, which, in addition to greater fuel efficiency, results in the airliner generating 40% less noise. The aircraft also benefits from aerodynamic refinements, most notably its advanced technology winglets. It is also fitted with new flight deck displays – the same as those on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
The 737 MAX 8s will be delivered to Comair over a four-year period. The first two will be delivered in British Airways colours and the next three in Kulula colours. It has not yet been decided in what colours the last three will be delivered. Comair is the fourth-largest airline in Africa in terms of passenger volumes. It employs 2 100 people.