Day 3 of Dubai Airshow has been another good one for Airbus, racking up deals from Jazeera Airways and Ibom Air.

Kuwait’s Jazeera Airways signed a Memorandum of Understanding for 20 Airbus A320neo’s and eight A321neo’s, plus options on five more A320neo-family aircraft. The $3.3 billion deal has been prepared for months but only came together at the last minute. “They say no deals are done at airshows. We literally did this one here”, said Christian Scherer, Chief Commercial Officer.

Confirmation of the MoU is just a formality, said the airline’s CEO Rohit Ramachandran, as Jazeera is very keen on expanding its fleet and replacing older aircraft with newer ones. Jazeera currently has a fleet of sixteen aircraft, of which eight A320ceo’s and eight A320neo’s. It will take delivery of the 17th Neo in de coming weeks. The new airplanes will be delivered until 2026: “They will replace the eight Ceo’s as they are returned to the lessors. The first one is to be returned in the second half of 2022”, Ramachandran said. Although its eight A320neo’s are powered by CFM LEAPs, Ramachandran said that the engine choice is still undecided.

Jazeera, which was the first private low-cost airline in the Middle East region when it was launched in late 2004 and also was the first in the region to select the A320neo, is keen to grow the fleet. “While in the early days all our aircraft are leased, now we believe it is the right time to evolve, to grow, and invest in the future. That’s why we have been in discussions with Airbus about what we consider a realistic, modest, easily digestible order for Jazeera”, the airline’s CEO said. This is a direct order with Airbus that will see the fleet grow to a maturity of 30 to 35, the maximum it thinks base carriers in Kuwait can handle. Ramachandran said that Jazeera is not interested in the A321LR or XLR, so these versions aren’t part of the options.

Time is right for its first direct order

The carrier’s market is dominated by government-owned or backed competitors in the Gulf region that have dumped capacity, but Jazeera thinks it is in a good position to benefit from opportunities, being a small but well-run airline. “All this time we have been keeping ourselves asset-light on our balance sheet and leasing airplanes, but moving forward, we believe that we do need to invest. Not only in the very capable aircraft Airbus is offering but also in the environmental side”, explained Ramachandran. “This is not really the hottest subject in this part of the world at this moment, but we believe that emissions, the noise, and the capabilities of this airplane are key and crucial to our view of supporting environmental initiatives.”

As it sees growing demand for travel from Kuwaiti, Jazeera plans to grow its network to “low-hanging fruit within the region”. Even during the pandemic, it opened nine new routes and its third quarter was the best ever. It would really like to expand frequencies to Saudi Arabia, with Iran and CIS states opening good opportunities. It will launch services to Almaty from December.

But the airline also keeps an eye on Europe. Back in 2019, it launched services to London Gatwick and later moved to Heathrow. Back then, Ramachandran told AirInsight that he wanted to serve other UK airports as well like Manchester and Birmingham. He confirmed this today, although Manchester might take another six months to be confirmed while also looking at other places in Europe. “But we need as close to the low-cost airline bible and the stage-length we need, then we need a balance between long flights and short flights.”

Airbus CCO Christian Scherer, Ibom Air CEO Mfon Udom, and Ibom Governor Udom Emmanual announce the purchase right at the Dubai Airshow. (Richard Schuurman)

Ibom Air orders a mix of A220s

As was reported by us, Day 3 also saw the confirmation of the order from Nigeria’s Ibom Air for Airbus A220s. The airline has signed a purchase agreement for ten aircraft: three -300s and seven of the smaller -100s, but CEO Mfon Udom explained that he has the flexibility to change the mix if that is best to serve its needs. The order is a significant one for Ibom Air and the Ibom region in Nigeria, the reason why its Governor, Udom Emmanuel, was present to attend the signing ceremony.

Ibom has been mainly operating Bombardier CRJ900s but leased two A220-300s from Egypt Air to test and see if this is it’s a good fit for its future plans. Mfon Udom said this has been confirmed during the year it has now operated the Airbus: “Our passengers simply love it. And so we are here ordering our A220s. The aircraft offers a one-stop solution for our domestic and regional aspirations. We have absolutely no doubts in our mind that we have made the right choice of aircraft type to power our growth and build our formidable airline branch out of Africa.” Initially, that includes West Africa but later East as well. Ibom will take delivery of the first A220 in 2023 and are added to the wet-leased aircraft. The airline will take on its own maintenance.

For Airbus, the order from Ibom is another important one in Africa. Egyptair and Air Tanzania already operate the type. In Dubai, lessor Macquarie announced that it has placed five A220-300s with Air Senegal. The airline said two years ago that it was keen to have eight A220s. 

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