Airbus has partnered with countries in the Pacific region for more than 40 years. Customers in Australia and New Zealand – as well as the South Pacific islands such as Papua New Guinea, Fiji, the Solomon Islands and New Caledonia – have affirmed their confidence in the company’s civil aircraft, defence, space and helicopter products time and again. As a result, Airbus has secured orders for around 300 commercial airliners and more than 600 helicopters and military fixed-wing aircraft from this region.
The company also has a long and successful industrial presence in the Pacific. This includes maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) centres for civil and military fixed-wing and rotary aircraft, as well as helicopter assembly facilities – all of which have made a direct contribution to the local economies, built up regional aviation capabilities and created high-value jobs in the aerospace industry.
More than 160 Airbus commercial aircraft, ranging from the A380 to the popular A330 wide-body and best-selling single-aisle A320 Family, are in service in the Pacific. They are deployed on a wide range of operations, from domestic and regional services to some of the world’s longest intercontinental routes.
Australia’s Qantas Airways became a customer of the company in 2000 and operated some 40 Airbus wide-body aircraft as of late 2018. These included 12 A380s that fly on its major routes to Europe, the U.S. and the Asia-Pacific region. In 2017, the airline chose Airbus to upgrade the cabins of its A380 fleet to further improve passenger comfort on long-haul services.
Qantas also had 28 A330 Family wide-bodies for operation on high-density domestic services as well as medium and long-haul international routes across the Asia-Pacific region. The fleet of its low-cost Jetstar unit numbered approximately 60 A320 Family jetliners on its domestic and international network.
In 2011, Qantas confirmed a major firm order for 78 A320neo Family aircraft for operation by Jetstar and its affiliates in the Asia-Pacific region. Three years later, the airline upgraded its order for 21 A320ceo airliners to the latest NEO variant of the Airbus single-aisle family. As of late 2018, Qantas had 99 A320 Family jetliners – comprising 45 A320neo and 54 A321neo – on order for future delivery.
Virgin Australia began operating Airbus aircraft in 2011. Its six A330-200 wide-body jetliners are deployed on high-density domestic routes, as well as international services to the Asia-Pacific and the Middle East. The airline’s regional unit operates A320s from Perth to the Cocos Island and Christmas Island as well as on charter and contract operations. Virgin Australia’s low-cost unit Tigerair Australia operates 12 A320 Family aircraft on domestic routes.
Air New Zealand is another major Airbus customer in the Pacific region, operating some 30 A320 Family jetliners on its extensive domestic network and key regional services. In June 2014, the carrier signed a deal for 13 A320neo Family airliners for its future fleet plans. In August 2018, the carrier announced an order for two more A320neo Family aircraft – while leasing five more of the type. The delivery of these new-generation jets began later that year, helping New Zealand’s flag carrier to rejuvenate its fleet and grow its network.
New Caledonia’s Aircalin has been operating Airbus aircraft since 2000. Its A330-200s fly on regional and long-haul services, and A320s serve shorter routes. In 2016, Aircalin became the region’s first customer for the upgraded A330neo with a deal for two A330-900 wide-bodies, as well as two A320neo aircraft.
Fiji Airways joined the list of Airbus customers in 2011, when it ordered A330-200 wide-body jets as part of fleet renewal plans. By the end of 2018, the airline operated six A330 Family aircraft, deployed on its popular medium and long-haul routes in the Asia-Pacific and to the U.S. These have helped the carrier to grow its international network beyond the Pacific region.
Solomon Airlines from the Solomon Islands operates an A320 single-aisle jet as its flagship aircraft. The carrier uses the jetliner, which has a dual-class configuration, on its key international services to Australia.
Australia’s Skytraders operates Airbus A319s on services that include on the only commercial airliner service to ice runways in Eastern Antarctica. These flights transport both passengers and high-priority cargo, and the aircraft can also be deployed for rapid medical evacuation. Because of the unique and fragile Antarctic ecosystem, Skytraders limits the need for extensive ground support infrastructure by equipping its aircraft with specialist remote field functions – such as onboard airstairs.
Airbus rotary-wing aircraft have been serving customers in the Pacific region since 1986, when Aerospatiale Helicopters Australia (a predecessor company) began operations in Sydney.
In 2001, Airbus established a wholly-owned subsidiary – Brisbane-based Airbus Australia Pacific – to cover sales and after-sales support in the region. The company also assembled 18 of the 22 ARH Tiger helicopters ordered by the Australian Army, as well as 43 of the 47 MRH90 Taipan rotorcraft bought by Australia’s army and navy.
Airbus H135 T2+ twin-engine helicopters were selected for the Australian Defence Force’s pilots’ training in 2014, with deliveries completed two years later. The Australian navy also operates 13 AS350Bs for lead-in helicopter training.
New Zealand’s defence force selected the NH90 multi-role rotorcraft for front-line military and civil operations in 2005. In 2018, the country was operating eight NH90s to support ground operations, disaster relief, search and rescue, counter-drug operations and counter-terrorism missions.
More than 500 Airbus helicopters operate in the Pacific region’s civil and parapublic segment, ranging from single-engine H120s to the twin-engine H135 and heavy-lift H225 versions. Airbus products are especially popular in the mature markets of Australia and New Zealand, where they are deployed on various missions – including tourism, search and rescue as well as transport services.
Airbus also has made inroads in emerging markets such as Papua New Guinea, where multi-purpose helicopters like the H145 perform missions ranging from emergency medical services to law enforcement and private transport.
In the military aircraft segment, Australia signed a landmark 2004 deal with Airbus for the A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) to meet its air-to-air refuelling and strategic transport requirements. These are designated KC-30A MRTT for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), which became the platform’s launch operator in June 2011.
All five A330 MRTTs were delivered by November 2012, and Australia ordered two more in 2015, with the sixth MRTT delivered in September 2017.
Airbus and the RAAF signed a research agreement to further develop the MRTT’s capabilities in 2017. This starts with the joint development of the automatic air-to-air refuelling (A3R) concept and can be extended to other areas as the platform reaches operational maturity.
In Papua New Guinea, the country’s defence force operates a CN235 tactical aircraft in support of transport, logistical, disaster relief as well as search and rescue missions in the country.
Airbus has been supplying earth observation satellite imagery to the Australian market for over 25 years, and the company’s fully integrated optical and radar satellite constellation enables daily acquisitions at high resolution.
In June 2018, Airbus selected Wyndham airfield in Western Australia as the original flight base for its pioneering Zephyr solar-powered unmanned aircraft. Approximately 20 Airbus employees will be based in Wyndham, which is the first operational site for the launch and recovery of the Zephyr. This class of unmanned aircraft are also known as High Altitude Pseudo Satellites (HAPS), and the Zephyr typically flies for days or weeks at a time without landing and operates at very high altitudes – far above commercial airliners.
Through acquisitions and organic growth, Airbus has established a presence in four maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facilities in Australia and New Zealand. It is also embedded on eight defence bases in both countries, allowing it to support the armed forces in both Australia and New Zealand.
With the extensive MRO capabilities at these sites, Airbus maintains almost 600 civil and military helicopters that are in service in the Pacific, as well as a wide range of fixed-wing aircraft operated by the region’s defence forces.
These long-standing partnerships, and the company’s continuous investment in the local aviation industry, have resulted in Airbus employing almost 1,800 people across the region in high-value aerospace jobs.