China Southern Airlines has suspended its order for as many as 64 Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft.
Speaking at a breakfast briefing in London, UK and Ireland key account manager Dean Saxby said the airline has 26 of the aircraft in its fleet.
He said while the impact of the grounding of the aircraft in March following two deadly crashes has had little impact on current operations, he admitted the airline had quietly suspended its order for more.
Saxby said: “Out of a fleet of more than 800 aircraft, it [the grounding of the Max 8s] hasn’t made a huge dent.
“With all the aircraft coming on and the A350s, those aircraft have plugged some of those holes and we’ve had very minimal disruption.”
Saxby added the airline is currently operating more than 840 aircraft, making it the third largest airline in the world.
However, despite the Max issue the airline has ambitious plans to grow the fleet with more than 1,000 aircraft hoped for by the end of 2020, while the airline’s chairman said recently he hoped that number would double by 2035.
Saxby also admitted China Southern is in negotiation with both Heathrow and airlines based there to buy a third daily slot.
He added: “Head office certainly sees the London routes as a big part of that expansion, so we need that route soon.”
But Saxby said the airline would be unwilling to pay too high a price for the slot after Oman Air hit the headlines in the UK in 2016 when it paid a record $75 million for a slot at the airport.
He added: “I don’t think head office will be happy if we paid a record amount for a slot. I think they would prefer to keep their costs as low as they can.”
The airline currently operates a daily service from Guangzhou to London, while a second daily slot in the UK hub serves three separate Chinese destinations over the course of the week.
While Saxby admitted the airline could commence operations out of a second London airport at some stage in the future, he added China Southern would be just as likely to consider regional airports too.
“At present we’re looking at making Heathrow a success before we expand out and look elsewhere,” he added.