Paul Byrne, CEO of low cost Saudi airline Flynas talking to Gulf News at Arabian Travel Market 2016 on Wednesday. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: Saudi Arabia’s low cost carrier Flynas will decide on an order of up to 100 jets from either the Airbus Group or Boeing Co by June after ruling out Canadian plane maker Bombardier.

The airline said in January it was talking to all three manufacturers for an order of 60 aircraft over the next five years with options for a further 40. However, concerns over being one of Bombardier’s launch customer for the CS300 ruled it out.

“The sense was we would be better off staying with what we know,” chief executive Paul Byrne told Gulf News in an interview in Dubai on Wednesday.

The airline will now make a decision by June on buying Airbus’ A320neos or Boeing 737MAXs, new versions of the manufacturers single aisle aircraft.

“We’re putting pressure on Airbus and Boeing to get all the stuff in so we can try and get a decision before Ramadan starts,” said Byrne who last November signed a new three-year contract to stay on as chief executive after overseeing the airline’s first year of profitability.

Ramadan is expected to start this year on June 6, though the date can vary by one to two days as it is based on moon sightings.

Saudi Arabia’s population of 30 million is making the country increasingly attractive to airlines as the government loosens restrictions on the travel sector. State-owned Saudia plans to launch a low cost airline in mid-2017 and two new operators, Saudi Gulf and Qatar Airways-owned Al Maha Airways are waiting for operating licences.


Flynas operates a fleet of 26, soon-to-be 28, leased Airbus A320s. Those leases will run out over the next six years and be replaced with other leased aircraft until it can start taking delivery of new aircraft, Byrne said. Flynas plans to add four aircraft net to its fleet over the coming years.

Slots for the A320neo, which entered into service in January, and the Boeing 737MAXs, which is scheduled to start commercial flights in 2017, are booked out until 2020. However, it is possible for slots to come available through cancellations.

This week, Qatar Airways, the Middle East’s second biggest airline, threatened to cancel its order for 80 A320neos over engine cooling issues associated with the aircraft’s software. Qatar Airways, who was scheduled to be the launched customer, has so far refused to take delivery.

“We will be prepared to walk away at any cost,” Group Chief Executive Akbar Al Baker said at the Arabian Travel Market on Tuesday.

Deeper ties with Etihad Airways

Flynas could consider becoming the first non-equity member of Etihad Airways Partners, the Abu Dhabi airline’s alliance group made up of airlines it holds stakes in and their subsidiaries. Flynas and Etihad have formed closer ties over the past 10 months with the Saudi airline starting daily code-share flights from Riyadh to Abu Dhabi.

“We’re always interested in closer ties with them,” Byrne said suggesting synergies over the two airlines training and frequent flyer programmes could be explored. He said any partnership wouldn’t mean selling an equity stake.

Etihad Airways was not available to immediately comment.

Flynas is also in talks with Singapore Airlines; low cost carrier Scoot about a code-share partnership, Byrne said. Scoot will take over Singapore Airlines three-weekly flights to Jeddah from May 2.