The number of airlines that have embraced the Airbus A220 in Africa is growing. On December 28, Air Senegal became the fourth operator of the type in the continent after taking delivery of its first of eight A220-300s it has on order.

The aircraft got a special welcome with a water salute at Dakar’s Leopold Sedar Senghor airport a day later after arriving from Mirabel, which was attended by the country’s President, Macky Sall. The A220 entered service on January 4 to Casablanca (Morocco) and has done crew training the next day.

The arrival of the first A220 marks an important step for Air Senegal. The West African airline was founded in 2016 but began flying in May 2018. As the flag carrier of Senegal, it currently operates a fleet of three Airbus A319ceo’s, two A321ceo’s, two A330-900s, and two ATR 72-600s. It used to operate a Boeing 737-500, but this has been parked since October.

Air Senegal signed a Memorandum of Understanding for eight A220-300s at the 2019 Dubai Airshow. Instead of a direct purchase, the carrier will lease the aircraft, with the first joining from Macquarie AirFinance. The airline is expected to take delivery of another two A220-300s this year, one in 2023, and one in 2024. The lessor has ordered 29 A220-300s but during 2021 reduced its backlog from 40.

At last November’s Dubai Airshow, Air Senegal and Macquarie announced a lease agreement for five A220s from 2023, although it isn’t fully clear if they are additional to the eight from the 2019 MoU. Back then, the airline’s CEO, Ibrahim Kane, said: “We are thrilled to have Macquarie AirFinance on our side for the A220 program. The addition of this aircraft will be a game-changer in the West African landscape. It will provide our customers with an exceptional experience in terms of comfort and connectivity.”

A220 will help expand Air Senegal’s network

Kane described the A220 as a game-changer, stressing that the airplanes would help the carrier to expand its route network across the continent with relatively poor connectivity. Adding the A220 to its portfolio will, other than substantially increase fleet size, make the airline’s operations more agile and reduce operating costs. It is also part of a 20-year plan to expand travel and tourism in Senegal. In 2019, Air Senegal was the first African airline to fly Airbus’ new-generation wide-body aircraft, the A330-900.

The state-owned carrier doesn’t disclose its financial results, but according to media reports suffered a loss of CFA 19.8 billion (€30 million) in 2019 and CFA 45 billion (€68 million) in 2020 when its operations were disrupted by the effects of the Covid-crisis. It received a bail-out from the government in 2020 to cover the full loss.

The Airbus A220 is now flying with four airlines in Africa: Air Tanzania, EgyptAir, Ibom Air, and Air Senegal. Nigeria’s Ibom Air has been wet-leasing the type from EgyptAir but announced a purchase agreement order for ten aircraft at the 2021 Dubai Airshow valued at $915 million. They are for three -300s and seven -100s, but Ibom has the flexibility to swap the smaller for the bigger version. Two A220-300 will be delivered to the airline in the first quarter of 2023, while all ten aircraft would be delivered in 2024. The two wet-leased aircraft would be returned to EgyptAir at the expiration of the lease agreement coming June.

As of November 30, 2021, Airbus had received orders for 94 A220-100s and 556 -300s, but these exclude the order for twenty -300s from Qantas that was announced in December.

(Additional reporting from Richard Schuurman)

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