Pressure on Boeing continues to mount over the fate of orders for around four hundred 737 Max 8s and 9s in the Middle East. Alternative delivery options from Airbus could come into play if more clarity over the date of the grounded model’s return to service doesn’t soon emerge.
Con Korfiatis, CEO of Saudi LCC Flyadeal, told AIN in Dubai on April 30 that the date at which his airline would need to make a decision on how to proceed was “imminent.” In March, he told AIN that Flyadeal in December had placed a firm order for 30 Boeing 737 Max 8s, scheduled for delivery as early as the third quarter of this year.
“I don’t have an exact date,” he said. “We’re keen to continue growing the airline. We’ve got no aircraft scheduled for delivery at the moment. The business is still growing phenomenally, and we’d like to see more aircraft join the fleet before the end of the year. So if we don’t understand the way forward quickly, that growth won’t come.
“We are keen to get to a view, but no decision has been made. There is an ongoing, frequent and healthy dialogue with Boeing on what is going on with them. We’re also keeping in mind that if a solution doesn’t come fast enough for us, we may have to think of how else we continue the growth of Flyadeal.”
In contrast to Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, chairman of Flydubai and Emirates Airline, Korfiatis expressed satisfaction with communication with Boeing. Sheikh Ahmed, speaking to reporters at the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai on April 29, hinted at suboptimal updates from Boeing on the situation and that Flydubai would demand compensation for lost revenues over the grounding of flights.
“I know we’ve had teams in London where they made presentations in the last two weeks,” Korfiatis said of Flyadeal. “The [person that looks after Boeing] in this part of the world talks to us every second day.”
Asked if he would consider Airbus orders, he said that such an outcome for Flyadeal would not represent a watershed in the same way as it would for Flydubai, which remains a single-airplane Boeing 737 customer. In fact, Flyadeal already operates 11 Airbus A320s. “We are flying Airbuses,” Korfiatis said. “We are either flying Airbuses or Boeings. Nothing else comes into consideration.
“The markets and the routes [in which] we operate are very thick. We don’t see a need for more regional-type jets. We need all the seats we’ve got on board our aircraft. We are at maximum density on the Airbuses we fly. The MAX configuration would be at maximum density as well. And that’s because we’re filling the aircraft. We need those seats.”
Dubai-based LCC Flydubai ordered 75 Boeing 737 Max jets in 2013 and a further 175 in 2017. By March, it had taken 13 of them. Flydubai grounded its Max 8s and Max 9s immediately following a March 13 safety decree to do so by the UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA).
“We continue to talk with Airbus,” a Flydubai spokesperson told AIN in response to a question about the possibility of a switch from the Max. “We are in touch with Boeing about the situation with the Max aircraft. Our current priority is to minimize disruption to our passengers following its grounding. There is, however, no clarity as to when the aircraft will return to service.”
In March, Flydubai said it would cancel up to 15 flights a day, or up to 17 percent of available seats. “We recognize this is a unique and complex situation underpinned by safety and regulation,” it said. “There are a number of procedural factors that our experienced teams are working through.”
In the Gulf region, along with Flyadeal and Flydubai, Oman Air carries five 737 Max jets in its fleet and planned to take 25 more. Kuwaiti lessor Aviation Lease and Finance Co. (Alafco) holds outstanding orders for 40 Max 8s, while Qatar Airways has signed for another five.