Southeast Asia airline fleets: Lion Air still #1. AirAsia Group to overtake Garuda, SIA in 2018

AirAsia is poised to overtake Garuda and Singapore Airlines in 2018 to become Southeast Asia’s second largest airline group by fleet size, after Lion. The Lion Group has operated the largest fleet in Southeast Asia since 2014.

The AirAsia Group is planning to grow its Southeast Asia fleet by 13% in 2018, to 211 aircraft. The fleet also grew by 13% in 2017, surpassing the overall Southeast Asia fleet growth rate of 6%.

In 2018 sister airline group AirAsia X is planning to grow its fleet at an even faster 30% rate, but on a much smaller base, as it currently only operates 30 aircraft. The AirAsia X Group consists of three airlines, all based in Southeast Asia, and operates an all-A330 fleet. The AirAsia Group consists of six airlines – with the four largest in Southeast Asia – and operates an all-A320 fleet.


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Southeast Asia fleet expands by 6% in 2017; AirAsia expands by 16%

The AirAsia Group currently has the fourth largest fleet in Southeast Asia, behind the Lion Group, the Garuda Indonesia Group and the Singapore Airlines (SIA) Group.

The AirAsia Group ended 2017 with a fleet of 204 aircraft, which was an increase of 16% compared to the end of 2016. The group’s Southeast Asian fleet expanded by 13% in 2017, from 164 to 186 aircraft.

See related report: AirAsia Group 2017 fleet analysis: fleet reaches 200 aircraft, expansion reaccelerates

Southeast Asia’s total fleet in service grew by 6% in 2017, from 1,851 to 1,958 aircraft, according to the CAPA Fleet Database. The AirAsia Group now accounts for nearly 10% of the total fleet in Southeast Asia.

The top 10 airline groups in Southeast Asia (listed below) account for more than 70% of the total fleet.

Top 10 Southeast Asian airline groups ranked by fleet size: as of 1-Jan-2018

Rank Airline Group Number of airlines Number of countries Number of Aircraft
1. Lion  5 3 294
2.  Garuda  2 1 192
3.  Singapore Airlines 3 1 191
4. AirAsia  4 4 186
5. Thai Airways  3 1 129
7. Vietnam Airlines 3 1 115
6. Malaysia Airlines 3 1 102
8. Philippine Airlines 2 1 88
9. Cebu Pacific 2 1 61
10. Sriwijaya  2 1 56

AirAsia Group planning to expand Southeast Asia fleet by 13% again in 2018

The AirAsia Group is planning to grow its fleet another 17% in 2018, to 239 aircraft, according to the latest version of its fleet plan. In Southeast Asia, the AirAsia Group fleet is expected to expand by 13% again, to 211 aircraft.

AirAsia Group fleet size (number of A320s) by country: end 2018 vs end 2017 and end 2016

Country End 2016 End 2017 End 2018*
Malaysia 77 90 94
Thailand 51 56 63
Indonesia 22 23 30
Philippines 14 17 24
Southeast Asia total 164 186 211
India 8 14 21
Japan 2 2 5
Subleased to Pakistan 2 2 2
AIRASIA TOTAL  176 204 239

AirAsia is on pace to become, in 3Q2018, the second airline group in Southeast Asia to reach 200 aircraft in service. Lion became the first Southeast Asian airline group to surpass 200 aircraft in 2015.

Lion overtook Garuda and Singapore Airlines (SIA) in 2014 to gain the distinction of having Southeast Asia’s largest airline fleet. Garuda and SIA have since held the number two and three positions. As the table highlighted earlier in this report shows, the Garuda Group ended 2017 with 192 aircraft, while the SIA Group ended the year with 191 aircraft, according to the CAPA Fleet Database.

Garuda fleet will not grow in 2018

Garuda is not intending to grow its fleet in 2018. The full service parent airline has deferred all its 2018 deliveries. Its LCC subsidiary Citilink is still taking three A320neos, but returning three A320ceos.

The SIA Group will follow the AirAsia Group in reaching 200 aircraft by the end of 2018. However, SIA's fleet will end the year with 10 aircraft less than that of the AirAsia Group.

Most of the growth for SIA will be at Scoot, which is adding two more 787s in 2018 and will start taking back A320s that have been subleased to IndiGo. SIA's regional full service subsidiary SilkAir is also planning to add three 737 MAX 8s in 2018. SIA the parent airline will have modest growth, since most of SIA’s aircraft deliveries in 2018 will be offset with retirements.

Malaysia Airlines, Thai Airways, Vietnam Airlines plan modest expansion in 2018

The only other three airline groups in Southeast Asia with more than 100 aircraft – Malaysia Airlines, Thai Airways and Vietnam Airlines – are also not planning significant fleet growth in 2018.

In 2018 Malaysia Airlines plans to take delivery of four A350s (in addition to the two that were delivered in Dec-2017), and six secondhand A330s. But its fleet of six A380s are exiting, resulting in net growth of only four aircraft. The Malaysia Airlines Group regional subsidiaries Firefly and MASwings are not planning any expansion in 2018.

Thai Airways is planning to expand its fleet by only one aircraft in 2018, with four retirements offsetting five deliveries. The other two airlines in the group, the full service subsidiary Thai Smile and LCC affiliate Nok, are not planning to add any aircraft.

Vietnam Airlines plans to expand its fleet at a slightly faster pace, but the group is expecting to add less than 10 aircraft. The parent airline will take delivery of its first batch of A321neos and additional A350s in 2018, but these will be partially offset by retirements. The other two airlines in the group, the LCC Jetstar Pacific and turboprop operator VASCO, are not planning to expand their fleets.

PAL Group closes in on 100 aircraft 

The eighth largest airline group in Southeast Asia, Philippine Airlines, will approach 100 aircraft at the end of 2018. The PAL Group currently operates 88 aircraft and plans to expand its fleet by 10 aircraft in 2018. PAL is taking delivery of six A321neos, four A350-900s and five Dash 8 Q400s in 2018, but is phasing out some of its older model Dash 8s and A340s.

Philippine Airline's rival Cebu Pacific plans to expand its fleet by only three aircraft in 2018. Projections for Sriwijaya, the tenth largest airline group in Southeast Asia, are difficult because it is privately owned and generally acquires secondhand aircraft. The Sriwijaya Group added six aircraft in 2017 for a total of 56, and will likely grow its fleet by a similar number in 2017.

Sriwijaya will almost certainly lose its position in the top 10 to the fast-expanding VietJet Group. VietJet expanded its fleet by 17 aircraft in 2017 and ended the year with 55 aircraft – just one less than Sriwijaya.

VietJet plans to expand its fleet by a similar number in 2018, enabling it to overtake both Sriwijaya and Cebu Pacific in the rankings.

Lion to maintain its leading position, despite faster growth from AirAsia (and VietJet)

The 17 additional aircraft for 2017 made VietJet the third fastest growing airline group in Southeast Asia based on number of aircraft (after AirAsia and Lion). However, VietJet’s rate of growth, 45%, was significantly faster. AirAsia’s growth rate was 13% in 2017, as previously mentioned, whereas Lion's was only 8%.

Lion is planning another year of relatively modest fleet growth in 2018. However, Lion will remain the largest airline group in Southeast Asia by a relatively wide margin – even when AirAsia X and AirAsia are combined.

The AirAsia X Group currently operates 30 A330-300s and plans to take delivery of nine secondhand A330-300s in 2018, resulting in a fleet of 39 aircraft. All AirAsia X Group aircraft are based in Southeast Asia; its fleet did not expand in 2017, but passenger traffic was up as utilisation rates and load factors improved.

AirAsia X Group fleet size (number of A330s) by country: end 2018 vs end 2017 and end 2016

Country End 2016 End 2017 End 2018*
Malaysia 22 22 25
Thailand 6 6 10
Indonesia 2 2 4
TOTAL  30 30 39

The combined AirAsia and AirAsia X fleet in Southeast Asia is therefore expected to increase by 16% in 2018, from 216 to 250 aircraft. Lion Group ended 2017 with 294 aircraft and will likely end 2018 with between 310 and 320 aircraft.

See related report: Lion Group 2017 fleet analysis: delivery deferrals & retirements mean slower growth once again

AirAsia grows rapidly in all its home markets

Lion Group has five airlines in Southeast Asia based in three countries, while AirAsia and AirAsia X combined have eight airlines in Southeast Asia in four countries. Both groups have a presence in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand; AirAsia also has a presence in the Philippines.

All eight of the AirAsia airlines are planning to grow their fleets in 2018. In all four of their Southeast Asian home markets, AirAsia will be growing faster than competitors in 2018 – in some cases significantly faster.

Thailand will experience the fastest growth, with the combined AirAsia/AirAsia X fleet expanding by 11 aircraft. The fleet in Indonesia is projected to grow by nine aircraft. In both Malaysia and the Philippines, the combined fleet is expected to expand by seven aircraft.

Malaysia was the fastest-growing AirAsia market in 2017 with 13 additional aircraft, followed by Thailand with five aircraft, the Philippines with three aircraft, and Indonesia with just one aircraft. However, the growth for Malaysia is a bit misleading, as Malaysia AirAsia took delivery of five A320neos in Dec-2017.

AirAsia’s rapid fleet expansion reinforces its position as the leading LCC group in Southeast Asia and Asia overall. While Lion has a bigger fleet, it has a smaller LCC presence because two of its airlines follow the full service model.

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