US private equity titan Bill Franke becomes latest Airbus XLR customer with 50 plane order

Key Points
  • Indigo Partners is to buy 50 Airbus A321XLR jets for airlines it runs out of the United States, Chile and Mexico.
  • The deal is for 32 new planes and 18 upgrades of previous commitmnets to buy A320neo planes.
  • Frontier Airlines to look at using the plane on more routes involving Alaska and Hawaii.
Veteran airline investor Bill Franke (center) at the 2019 Paris Air Show.
CNBC

PARIS - The veteran airline investor Bill Franke has signed a draft agreement to buy 50 of Airbus' brand-new extended range commercial jet.

Indigo Partners, a U.S. private equity fund that focuses on the air transportation sector, is to split the A321XLR order with 18 jets for Frontier Airlines in the U.S., 12 for JetSMART in Chile, and 20 going to to Wizz Air which operates out of Hungary.

The deal is for 32 new planes and 18 upgrades of previous commitments to buy A320neo planes.

Franke told a press conference at the Paris Air Show on Wednesday that he had "become convinced this was the aircraft that was needed." He added that each of the three airlines were the lowest cost carriers in their market and the plane would enhance that reputation.

Airbus announced the launch of the A321XLR on Monday. The manufacturer has said the plane has been built to fly 4,500 nautical miles and can contest routes previously only available to twin-aisle aircraft.

Airbus has enjoyed a steady number of orders since its launch from customers including IAG, Aircraft Leasing Corporation and Cebu Pacific. The manufacturer did not offer a running total of Paris orders on Wednesday, saying only that the number was "a moving target."

Also speaking at the conference was Barry Biffle, CEO of Frontier Airlines who said serving the U.S. coast-to-coast route during winter with a full payload, had previously been a challenge but the XLR would solve that problem.

He said the airline was also looking at various Hawaii and Alaska routes and hinted that trips to Europe were not out of the question in future.