Boeing wins $6bn of deals for 50 737 Maxs in boost to banned jet at Dubai Airshow

Separately, Ghana announces plans for new carrier and agrees to buy three Boeing 787-9 widebodies

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 19 November 2019. The third day of Dubai Airshow at World Central. General image from the show for possible gallery. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: None. Section: National.
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Boeing stole the spotlight from rival Airbus on the third day of the Dubai Airshow with orders worth $6 billion (Dh22.04bn) for 50 737 Max from airlines.

The plane maker won support for the grounded model even before its return to service, as US regulators have not yet provided a timeline for lifting a ban on the jet.

Air Astana, Kazakhstan's national airline, signed a letter of intent for 30 737 Max for its low-cost unit FlyArystan, valued at $3.6bn at list prices.

The order will be finalised "in the coming months" and the 737 Max 8 narrow-body is expected to enter service in late 2021, Alma Aliguzhinova, Air Astana's chief planning officer, said on Tuesday.

The operations will start "after what we expect would be over one year of successful operations of this aircraft", she said. "We ran the tender and Boeing won. We’re confident in Boeing's professionalism to overcome interim technical difficulties."

Boeing seeks to rekindle sales of its best-selling jet after two fatal crashes involving the model prompted a ban on the Max fleet around the world in March, and plunged the company into a crisis. However, the Max orders at the Dubai Airshow indicate a win for Boeing, which expects the jet to return to commercial service in January, after re-certification from the US regulator in December. Last month, Boeing had said it was in "advanced" talks with airlines for new 737 Max purchases.

The Max is the "right fit" for FlyArystan's mission for mainly domestic and some regional routes.

"It was a hard-fought competition and we're working on the final details," said Stanley Deal, chief executive of Boeing's Commercial Planes.

The airline could take 15 of the Max planes in direct purchase and the other 15 under operating leases, Ms Aliguzhinova said.

The low-cost airline was launched this May and has been "hugely successful" since, with s 94 per cent seat load factor on its current two planes, she said.

"We’re making flying affordable for people of Kazakkstan," she said. "There's definitely good demand and opportunity for this carrier, so this [Max] is the flagship aircraft for future of FlyArystan."

She said Boeing made a more compelling offer during the tender, with support from engine maker CFM.

Separately, an undisclosed airline signed a firm order for 20 Max aircraft, including 10 of the Max 7 variant and 10 of the larger Max 10, worth $2.3bn, Boeing said in a statement on Tuesday.

Th e order builds on the agreement from Turkey's SunExpress for 10 additional 737 Max jets on Monday, exercising options on top of its existing order of 32 Max aircraft.

In other announcements at the airshow, the Ghanaian government launched a new airline, in which the state will own 10 per cent and the remainder will be held by private and institutional investors, said Joseph Adda, Ghana's Aviation Minister.

The African country signed an agreement for three Boeing 787-9 wide-bodies worth $877.5 million, earmarked for the operator based in Accra.

It is due to come into service in the first quarter of 2020. The aim is to develop Accra as a strategic hub serving west Africa with future routes to Europe, North America and Asia.

"The appetite is there and there are many other investors who are more hungry than we thought," he said, declining to name them. "We are weighing the offers: some are bringing cash equity, some are bringing aircraft, some bringing specialised services."

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s budget airline Flynas signed a firm order with the French plane maker Airbus to purchase an additional 10 long-range A321XLR aircraft.

The order comes as Flynas sees more opportunities for tourism growth following the Saudi government's initiative to introduce tourist visas and increase the number of pilgrims to the kingdom, said Bandar Almohanna, Flynas chief executive.