Maiden Middle Eastern A220 for EgyptAir

EgyptAir Express has accepted its first of 12 Airbus A220-300s, becoming the first carrier to operate the type in the Middle East. It is only the sixth airline worldwide to fly the type, following deliveries to airBaltic, Swiss, Korean Air, Delta Air Lines and Air Tanzania.

The Cairo-based carrier is set to use the Canadian-built jets on domestic services and international routes to Middle Eastern, North African and Southern European destinations. They will replace 12 Embraer E170s which are gradually being phased out. An initial E1, SU-GCV (c/n 17000170), was retired in mid-June. It has been sold to Tunisian start-up Jasmin Airways along with sistership, SU-GCW (c/n 17000175).


The airliner is fitted out with a two-class interior accommodating 125 economy and 15 premium economy travellers. Alongside 11 further A220s, the carrier is awaiting delivery of 15 A320neos from the European manufacturer.

Airbus Shopping Spree for AirAsia X

AirAsia X, the long-haul unit of the AirAsia Group, has confirmed a firm order with Airbus for an additional batch of single and twin-aisle aircraft. In total, the Kuala Lumpur-based firm will acquire 12 Airbus A330-900 examples and and 30 A321XLRs.

The deal, signed on August 30 in the Malaysian capital, increases the number of A330neos ordered by AirAsia X to 78, cementing the low-cost carrier’s position as the largest airline customer for the new type. In a further indication of the power of the Airbus/AirAsia partnership, the A321XLR order sees the wider AirAsia Group solidify its status as the world’s largest airline customer for the A320 Family, having now ordered a staggering 622 examples.

Tony Fernandes, AirAsia Group CEO commented: “This order reaffirms our selection of the A330neo as the most efficient choice for our future widebody fleet. In addition, the A321XLR offers the longest flying range of any single aisle aircraft and will enable us to introduce services to new destinations. Together, these aircraft are perfect partners for long-haul low cost operations and will allow us to build further on our market leading position in this fast-growing sector.”

Photo: Airbus

Guillaume Faury, Airbus CEO added: “AirAsia X has been the pioneer of the long haul low cost model in the Asia-Pacific region. This new order for the A330neo and A321XLR is a true endorsement of the Airbus solution to meet mid-market demand with a combination of single aisle and widebody products. This powerful solution will provide AirAsia X with the lowest possible operating costs to expand its network and enable even more people to fly further than ever before.”

AirAsia X currently operates a fleet of 36 of the A330-300 variant on a host of services to points within the Asia-Pacific region, in addition to more sporadic operations to and from the Middle East.

Speaking as the news was announced, Rafidah Aziz, chairman of AirAsia X hinted that the new widebody arrivals could see the carrier extend its footprint further west, and potentially into southern Europe: “The A330neo’s revolutionary new features and modifications will move our long-haul service sectors up to a higher level and allow AirAsia X to look at expanding beyond the eight-hour flight radius, such as to Europe, for example,” he revealed.

Photo: Airbus-AirAsia

As part of the agreement, Airbus will expand its maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) presence in Malaysia and establish the Airbus Malaysia Digital Initiative to “enhance the competitiveness of the local aerospace sector through the application of new digital technologies” as part of a wider scheme by the country’s government to transform Malaysia into a regional aerospace hub. The European manufacturer is also due to boost its commitment to the Aerospace Malaysia Innovation Centre (AMIC) – of which it is a founding member – by appointing an innovation technical director and increasing its funding for joint research programmes, including into the production of sustainable aviation biofuels in the southeast Asian nation.

The order comes just weeks after AirAsia’s Bangkok-based long haul affiliate, AirAsia X Thailand received its first A330-900. The airframe is the first of two leased neos joining the Thai affiliate before the end of 2019.

Airbus in Alabama: A220 Production Begins

Airbus has started manufacturing the first A220s at its Mobile, Alabama-based final assembly line. Work began on August 5 and followed the return of the first group of technicians who had undergone on-the-job training at Mirabel, Québec, Canada, where the A220 programme and primary assembly line are located.

The company first revealed plans to establish a second final assembly line at Mobile in October 2017, with construction on a new production hangar and other support buildings starting earlier this year. Airbus said it will be producing the first few A220s in the same buildings as it uses for the A320 Family aircraft while also utilising recently completed support hangars. The first US produced A220 – a -300 for Delta Air Lines – is scheduled for delivery during the third quarter of next year, and by the middle of the next decade, the facility will be producing between 40 and 50 A220s per year.

After completing their training in Mirabel, the initial group of technicians has started work on the first A220 final assembly in Mobile, Alabama. (Photo Airbus)

Jeffrey Knittel, Airbus Americas chairman and chief executive office, remarked: “The expansion of our commercial aircraft production in Mobile to a second product line – with 400 additional jobs to support it – further solidifies Airbus’ standing as a truly global aircraft manufacturer, and confirms without a doubt that it is also an important part of America’s manufacturing landscape. With Mobile, and our production network in Asia, Canada and Europe, we have strategically created a worldwide industrial base to better serve our customers.”

Airbus explained the A220 is the only purpose-built aircraft for the 100-150 seat market. With the very latest aerodynamics, use of advanced materials and Pratt & Whitney PW15000G geared turbofan engines the jet is already achieving at least a 20% lower fuel burn per seat compared to previous generation types. With orders for 551 examples by the end of June 2019, the manufacturer believes it has the credentials to win a lion’s share of the 100-150 seat market, estimated to represent 7,000 aircraft, over the next 20 years.

Etihad Boosts Heathrow Year-Round Frequency

Etihad Airways will add a fourth year-round daily rotation between its Abu Dhabi hub and Heathrow within its upcoming winter schedule. The UAE national carrier says the enhanced frequency will launch on October 27 to link the two capitals and timed to depart the Middle East mid-morning and return for a late evening departure from London.

It follows a successful trial by Etihad with extra seasonal services this summer into Heathrow, which has seen up to five connections a day between the two airports.

The airline is rostering its two-class Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner for the new frequencies, with the jet configured with 28 Business Studios and 271 economy seats. Guests looking for the airline’s famous ‘Residence’ option or first class ‘apartments’, will need to fly on one of the carrier’s existing thrice-daily Airbus A380 services into the West London airport.

Robin Kamark, chief commercial officer, Etihad Aviation Group, said: “The new service demonstrates our commitment to the crucially important UK market, and ensures we provide our customers with all the benefits of a next-generation fleet across all 42 weekly departures to and from the United Kingdom. Adding a fourth year-round flight will provide much needed capacity and optimised timings and easy connections to key destinations across the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Australia.”

Performance Improvements for the A220 Family

Airbus has revealed performance improvements to its latest single-aisle aircraft – the A220 Family. Starting from the second half of 2020, the aircraft’s maximum take-off weight (MTOW) is being increased by 5,000lb (2,268kg) to 2.3 tonnes. This will improve the aircraft’s range capabilities to 3,350nm (6,204km) for the A220-300 and 3,400nm (6,297km) for the A220-100, around 450nm (833km) more than is currently available.

This has been achieved by enhancing existing structural and systems margins as well as current fuel volume capacity. The increased range will allow customer airlines to tap into new routes that were not possible before, such as connecting key cities in Western Europe with the Middle East or from Southeast Asia to Australia.

Rob Dewar, head of engineering and customer support for the A220, commented: “Since its entry into service close to three years ago, the A220 has already proven that it is meeting or beating its initial performance targets, bringing more flexibility and revenue potential to customers. Today, Airbus is reinforcing its confidence in the A220 platform and further enhancing its capabilities to meet upcoming market requirements.”

Airbus says that, with an order book of more than 530 aircraft to date, the A220 has all the credentials to win the lion’s share of the 100 to 150-seat market, estimated to represent 7,000 aircraft over the next 20 years.


Middle East Milestone for A321LR

Air Arabia as received its first Airbus A321LR. The example, registered A6-ATA (c/n 8714), made its first flight on April 2, and has since been flown non-stop from the manufacturer’s Hamburg Finkenwerder plant to the airline’s Sharjah base.

The carrier is the first in the Middle Eastern to operate the type, with a further five examples due to follow in the coming months. Air Arabia currently serves more than 155 routes from hubs in the UAE, Morocco and Egypt using a fleet of 53 A320 family aircraft.

The new jet is configured with 215 seats and has been financed through an arrangement with Air Lease Corporation.

Adel Al Ali, group chief executive officer of Air Arabia, said: “The addition of this new aircraft allows us to expand our service to farther and newer destinations while remaining loyal to our low-cost business model.”

Virgin Atlantic Reveals New Middle East Route

British carrier Virgin Atlantic has announced it will launch flights from London Heathrow to Tel Aviv/Ben Gurion from this autumn. The first scheduled service is due to take place on September 25, and will mark the start of a new daily operation between the two cities.

Virgin have rostered their Airbus A330-300 for the five-hour journey, which will offer 33 Upper Class lie-flat beds, 48 seats in premium economy and 185 in economy.

Shai Weiss, Virgin Atlantic CEO commented: “2019 marks the start of a new phase of growth for Virgin Atlantic as we work to achieve our ambition to become the most loved travel company. Tel Aviv represents a fantastic opportunity for us – Israel’s economy is booming and as one of the world’s leading tech hubs we’re anticipating many business travellers and entrepreneurs flying between Tel Aviv and the UK”

Weiss also indicated that Virgin Atlantic sees the new route as “a significant opportunity” to increase competition in the US – Tel Aviv market, leveraging the firm’s joint venture arrangements with Delta Air Lines to provide feeder traffic.

The news marks a rapid re-entry to the Middle East for Virgin Atlantic after the company announced it was pulling its Heathrow to Dubai route from March 31 this year “due to a combination of external factors”.

Virgin Atlantic will welcome the first four of 12 Airbus A350-1000s to its fleet in 2019. The airline promises “a totally redesigned onboard experience for customers” with the aircraft also helping “transform the fleet into one of the quietest and most fuel efficient in the sky”.

The carrier is also set to become a founding member of a new US$13bn transatlantic joint venture with over 300 daily transatlantic flights and 96 non-stop destinations, alongside Delta, Air France and KLM as well as launching new services from Heathrow to Las Vegas/McCarran and Manchester to Los Angeles.

Tickets for the new Tel Aviv service go on sale from February 25.

Germania Files for Bankruptcy

Berlin-based leisure carrier Germania has become the first major casualty of 2019. In a fresh blow to the German aviation sector, the airline filed for bankruptcy on February 4, cancelling all scheduled services with immediate effect.

Management at the firm have cited currency fluctuations, “massive increases” to fuel prices and “considerable delays” in phasing aircraft into the fleet among the key reasons for the carrier’s failure. The insolvency follows the failure of Air Berlin in 2017 which at the time was the country’s second-largest carrier.

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Ken Fielding)

In a statement, Karsten Balke, Germania CEO commented: “Unfortunately, we were ultimately unable to bring our financing efforts to cover a short-term liquidity need to a positive conclusion. We very much regret that consequently, our only option was to file for insolvency.”

Blake paid tribute to the company’s staff and emphasised the exhaustive efforts undertaken the workforce, adding: “It is of course the impact that this step will have on our employees that we regret the most. All of them as a team always did their best to secure reliable and stable flight operations – even in the stressful weeks behind us. I would like to thank all of them from the bottom of my heart.”

At the time of its collapse, Germania operated a narrowbody fleet of 37 aircraft including Airbus A319 and A321 examples, in addition to Boeing 737-700s. Its core operations included holiday flights to destinations across Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.

A Germania spokesperson added that Swiss subsidiary Germania Flug AG and Bulgarian Eagle are unaffected by the move.

Qatar Airways Eyes Alliance Exit

Qatar Airways could withdraw from oneworld as early as next year as tensions continue to simmer with its fellow alliance members. Speaking in New York on October 18, the Doha-based flag carrier’s CEO Akbar Al Baker emphasised the importance of the group, but revealed growing frustration with American Airlines in particular.

“In June 2013, we joined oneworld. We were invited by American Airlines and British Airways together. Unfortunately, [American Airlines] is now talking against Qatar Airways,” Al Baker said. He earlier told Flight Global: “The whole idea behind an alliance is to work together to support each other like a family. But I don’t think that is any more the spirit of the alliance, especially since American Airlines is continuously targeting us, slandering us, and giving misinformation to the US government about Qatar Airways. And now it is targeting our investment in Air Italy at very high-level government interaction, claiming that we are cheating on the open skies agreement that we signed with the US government.”

The spat stems from long-running allegations by American, Delta Airlines and United Airlines that the ‘big three’ Gulf carriers – Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways and Emirates – are using illegal subsidies to compete unfairly. The Middle East airlines have repeatedly disputed this position and, earlier this year, agreed to publish financial statements and limit their expansion in the US in a bid to thaw relations between the groups.

Al Baker is also understood to be unhappy with fellow oneworld member Qantas, which has an extensive partnership agreement with Gulf rival Emirates.

Elsewhere, Qatar Airways is to add extra capacity to its long-haul fleet after converting five of its outstanding Airbus A350-900 orders to the larger -1000. The move is intended in part to mitigate the effect of ongoing restrictions on flights imposed by neighbouring Arab states, amid a continuing political dispute between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain

Fallout Continues After Primera Air Collapse

The sudden demise of budget carrier Primera Air is continuing to cause travel misery for thousands of the airline’s customers. The Danish-registered company (formed of both Primera Air Nordic and Primera Air Scandinavia) announced it was ceasing all operations at midnight on Monday after 14 years of operations, leaving some passengers and crew stranded overseas.

The company was in the middle of an ambitious transatlantic expansion programme, announcing a wealth of new routes from London/Stansted, Brussels and Madrid to destinations across the eastern US and Canada, with one-way fares from £99. Services to Washington/Dulles and Newark due to leave London/Stansted on Monday evening were grounded and passengers for later departures were instructed not to go to the airport.

Management at the airline, which operated a fleet of Boeing and Airbus aircraft, had earlier cited delays in deliveries of the A321neo for the abrupt termination of services from Birmingham. The carrier was also due to receive A321LR and 737 MAX examples beginning in 2019 to support its aggressive intra-Europe and long-haul growth plans.

A holding message on the airline’s website read: “Airline Primera Air and IATA codes PF and 6F have been suspended as of today, October 2, 2018. On behalf of [the] Primera Air team, we would like to thank you for your loyalty. On this sad day we are saying goodbye to all of you.”

Airports including London/Stansted are understood to be reviewing options to recoup any unpaid bills by the carrier – including the possible seizing of aircraft.