Air Arabia meets Airbus and Boeing this week for 100-plane order

Carrier hopes Boeing 737 Max issues resolved when it makes decision in 3 to 4 months

An Airbus A220-300 of Air Baltic taxis to runway south at Munich international airport in Germany, April 18, 2019. REUTERS/Michael Dalder
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Air Arabia, the Sharjah-based low cost carrier, is holding talks with Airbus and Boeing this week as it seeks to place an order for at least 100 narrowbody jets within three to four months, its chief executive said.

The airline, which operates an all-Airbus fleet, is considering various models for replacement and growth of its existing A320 single-aisle jets as it plans expansion for the next eight to nine years, Adel Ali, Air Arabia’s chief executive, said at the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai. In the mix are longer-range narrowbodies and 140-seat regional jets.

“Air Arabia needs to put an order in for probably 100 or 100- plus aeroplanes, some to replace our existing fleet and some of it for the organic growth of the hubs that we have,” he said on Tuesday. “I suspect it will be another three to four months before we put an order in.”

The UAE’s only listed airline currently operates a fleet of 53 Airbus A320 aircraft and one A321 Neo LR jet, flying to more than 155 routes from four hubs in Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah, Morocco and Egypt. The A321 Neo long-range jet delivery in April was the first of six such aircraft that will join Air Arabia’s fleet and enable the airline to reach markets within a seven-hour flight radius from its hubs.

The airline is weighing up jets from both Airbus and Boeing, the rivals with a duopoly over the skies, as the US plane maker faces the biggest crisis in its history after its now-grounded 737 Max narrowbody was involved in two fatal crashes.

“By the time we make those decisions one would hope that Boeing would have sorted out,” Mr Ali said. “There’s a monopoly of two companies, if one doesn’t produce it would be challenging for one of them to fulfil market needs.”

Mr Ali expressed his confidence in the world’s largest jet-manufacturer a day after rival low-cost carrier Flydubai’s chairman slammed Boeing for its handling of the 737 Max grounding.

“We have to consider Boeing as part of the two manufacturers,” Mr Ali said. “You can’t take them off, it’s a good plane, it had problems unfortunately, I’m sure they’ll sort it out.”

Air Arabia is mulling longer-range jets from both manufacturers as it seeks to expand into markets in North Africa, China and “niche” parts of Europe, Mr Ali said.

It is looking at regional jets seating 130 to 140 passengers for the airline’s domestic operations within its Egypt and Morocco hubs

Air Arabia, which has been mulling a new jet order for several years to expand its fleet of 54 Airbus jets, said the order is “overdue” and the negotiations “will take time” but the “sooner the better.”

“Whomever gives the better option, we’ll go for,” he said, adding the airline could switch to Boeing.