Indian Ocean equity partners Air Austral and Air Madagascar are to take six Airbus A220s, unifying their short- and mid- haul fleet renewals, starting with an initial firm order from Air Austral for three A220s.

Speaking at a press conference in Reunion on Oct. 12, Air Austral CEO Marie-Joseph Male announced a firm order for three Airbus A220s, configured with 132 seats (12 business and 120 economy).

The A220s will completely replace Air Austral’s existing short-haul fleet, which comprises two Boeing 737-800s and a single ATR 72-500.

Deliveries are provisionally scheduled for November 2020, December 2020 and March 2021.

Male said the A220s will be deployed on all of Air Austral’s existing routes, cutting operating costs, while enabling the airline to upgrade its onboard product and add frequencies.

“This is the only aircraft capable of operating all the current sectors of our Boeing 737-800s and ATR 72,” Male said.

One Air Austral destination in Madagascar—the island of Rodrigues—may be subject to operational restrictions, but the runway is being extended and this work should be completed in 2020.

“This will clearly improve the profitability of our company,” Male said, adding that the A220’s range will open up new market opportunities. “Perhaps, after adding frequencies, we will think about additional destinations.”

The order is strategically significant, because Air Madagascar—which is 49% owned by Air Austral—is also finalizing talks to secure three A220s, harmonizing the partners’ short- and mid-haul fleets.

“It’s a choice that has been made. Each company is now in negotiations with Airbus and with lessors,” Male said. “In less than a year, we have decided to buy the same aircraft. We got a price [from Airbus] for six aircraft.”

Air Austral is buying its A220s, while Air Madagascar may acquire its own three on lease. Air Madagascar is expected to finalize its A220 plans later this year, with deliveries starting in the first quarter of 2021.

The two sets of A220s will have similar internal layouts, giving the partners greater operational flexibility. They also aim to benefit from maintenance and training synergies.

Beyond the aircraft order, Male is in final negotiations to secure an A220 simulator for the region.

“This could be seen as just a small order, but for us it is very important,” Airbus EVP-commercial Christopher Buckley said at the press conference in Reunion.

Beyond the short- and mid-haul renewal Air Austral is seeking three to five aircraft to replace its long-haul fleet, which currently comprises three Boeing 777-300ERs and two 787-800s. A decision is expected in early 2020 for deliveries from 2023.

Buckley is optimistic that Air Austral could select A350s or A330neos.

One operational limitation is that Air Austral operates long-haul flights the Indian Ocean island of Mayotte to Paris Charles de Gaulle. The 787-800 is one the few long-haul types capable of performing this route, because of Mayotte’s short runway.

The long-haul renewal could also span both airlines. Air Madagascar would be seeking two long-haul aircraft as part of the order. The partners previously said they were considering Airbus A350-900s or A350-100s or Boeing 787-8s, -9s or -10s.

Previously, Air Austral ordered two 800-seat Airbus A380s for its long-haul development, but this order was canceled in 2012.

Victoria Moores