By Alex Macheras
Oman’s first low-cost airline, and new Airbus A320neo customer, SalamAir, is the latest Gulf airline that is set to feel the full effects of A320neo delivery delays this year, as the aircraft type continues to suffer from a worldwide engine shortage, plus supply chain issues.
In an exclusive interview, CEO Mohammed Ahmed told this correspondent that the carrier will face “several challenges” this year as a direct result of A320neo delivery delays from Airbus. SalamAir is a new Airbus customer, with five Airbus A320neo equipped with CFM International Engines on order.
The Omani carrier managed to take delivery of its first A320neo in late-2018 by ‘jumping the queue’, and accepting delivery of an aircraft previously destined for a US carrier that was never delivered due to a brief technical fault (which was fixed prior to delivery).
With a remaining four A320neo aircraft on order, SalamAir’s CEO originally expected the second jet (on lease from Kuwait’s ALAFCO) to be delivered in February 2019. Ahmed said: “Airbus said this week that our second aircraft due in February will now be delayed by two months, and our third aircraft due in March will be delayed by three months.”
While Ahmed acknowledged SalamAir isn’t alone with A320neo delays, he said: “Our expectations now is that all of our remaining A320neos on order will be delayed, similar to other customer airlines.”
Delivery delays with new engines from CFM International and Pratt & Whitney have continued for much of the A320neo’s production life. At one point in 2018, Airbus had almost 100 A320neo ‘gliders’ (airframes without engines) due to engine shortages. CFM’s LEAP turbine engine — which will power SalamAir’s A320neo aircraft — is still running behind schedule, despite the manufacturer expecting delays to have been ‘eliminated’ by the end of 2018.
Delays are expected to hit some other Gulf customer airlines too, including Kuwait Airways.
SalamAir’s CEO explained the operational frustrations the company will now face. “Airbus jets we planned to have pre-summer, will now be post-summer. Ultimately, not having the extra aircraft is going to have a big impact on our operations.”
The Omani budget airline was forced to lease two A320s from Vietnam, but these have since been returned. “We’ll need extra aircraft, and it’s not easy to find available aircraft at the price we are looking for,” he added. “We are either going to have to reduce our schedule and not launch all the destinations we are planning, or try to find a good deal for a short-term wet or dry lease.”
SalamAir has ambitious plans for 2019 and intends to launch flights to destinations in Egypt, Iran, India, Pakistan, Lebanon and Turkey. The Omani carrier will also increase frequencies on domestic routes in Oman, adding more capacity to Salalah, and Sohar.
Reflecting on the choice for CFM engines on the A320neo (as opposed to Pratt and Whitney), Ahmed said: “We wanted commonality, and we consider the CFM engines to perform very well, but of course, the delivery delays are now a challenge.”
With a busy summer season to prepare for, SalamAir’s decision to seek a wet-lease agreement will permit the Omani carrier to continue with its vast route network expansion, which includes seasonal destinations in Turkey, and charter flight operations for sporting events.
*The author is an aviation analyst. Twitter handle: @AlexInAir.
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