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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Could Croatia Airlines Become The Next Airbus A220 Customer?

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Following Airbus’ A220 Demo Tour in Croatia this week, Croatia Airlines said that the aircraft type would “undoubtedly be a good fit” for its planned fleet renewal. Has Airbus found a new customer for the A220?

airBaltic, Airbus A220, Largest carrier
Croatia Airlines expressed a very high opinion of the Airbus A220. Photo: airBaltic

Airbus was in Zagreb this week

Earlier this week, an airBaltic Airbus A220-300 aircraft was in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, as part of an Airbus Demo Tour of the aircraft type. The pitch was made chiefly for Croatia Airlines, the national airline and flag carrier of Croatia that currently operates a fleet of Dash 8 and Airbus A320 family aircraft.

A spokesperson for Croatia Airlines confirmed to Simple Flying that the airline is interested in this aircraft type. The company said that the A220 would “undoubtedly” be a good fit, listing several reasons for this.

Firstly, Croatia Airlines noted that it is an Airbus operator and that its maintenance division is certified as a service provider for Airbus aircraft. Secondly, the airline said that the A220’s characteristics fit into its fleet renewal plans.

This is true: Croatia Airlines does not fly its A320s very much in the winter months. At the same time, the Dash 8, which has the capacity to seat 76 people, is either too small or too unsuitable for much of Croatia Airlines’ network.

Croatia Airlines Airbus Dash
At the moment, Croatia Airlines has no aircraft in its fleet that is larger than the Dash 8 but smaller than the Airbus A319. Photo: Getty Images

Why is the Dash 8 too small?

Croatia Airlines’ routes like Zagreb-Frankfurt or Zagreb-Amsterdam require much greater capacity than the Dash can provide because Croatia Airlines is primarily a feeder airline for large European airport hubs.

For example, flights between Zagreb and Frankfurt are codeshared by Croatia Airlines, Lufthansa, ANA All Nippon Airways, Singapore Airlines, TAP Air Portugal, United Airlines, Air Canada, SAS Scandinavian Airlines, Asiana Airlines, Air India, and LOT Polish Airlines.

Thus, Croatia Airlines uses the Airbus A320 family aircraft on its feeder routes to Frankfurt and Amsterdam. However, this is the only part of the network that can achieve a good load factor on this aircraft, and not even for most of the year. Even the Airbus A319 is too large for Croatia Airlines’ destinations of Munich, Zurich, Prague, Lisbon, Dublin, Skopje, Athens, etc., outside of the peak summer months between June and September and the Christmas holidays.

If Croatia Airlines had a smaller aircraft than the A319 but a larger one than the Dash 8, it would be able to operate flights to these destinations at higher frequencies and thus make itself a more attractive airline of choice for more passengers.

On flights from Zagreb to Dublin, for example, the Dash 8 is not a suitable option because of the high distance. So Croatia Airlines sends the A319. However, because this aircraft provides a lot of capacity, the frequency is low: currently, it is a twice-weekly route. This makes it an unattractive option for potential travelers.

Croatia Airlines Airbus A320 Dubrovnik
The Airbus A320 family aircraft are too large for Croatia Airlines. Photo: Getty Images

How could Croatia Airlines pay for the A220?

Despite its interest, it remains unclear how Croatia Airlines would fund the acquisition of the Airbus A220 because it is not a profitable airline. 

One potential option would be if Airbus allowed Croatia Airlines to use the money it paid toward an Airbus A320neo order, which it wants to cancel, for the Airbus A220. Given that Airbus organized the A220 demo in Zagreb, could this happen?

Do you think Croatia Airlines will acquire the A220?

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