Saudi Arabian LCC flyadeal intends to keep its existing fleet of Airbus A320ceos in operation despite its order for Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft, the carrier’s CEO said at this week’s Saudi Airshow in Riyadh.

Flyadeal signed for 30 MAX 8 plus 20 options in December 2018; first deliveries are not scheduled until 2023 and the Jeddah-based operator plans to look for leased MAXs this year and next while awaiting its own aircraft.

The airline has issued an RFP for leased aircraft. Given this week’s grounding of the type, CEO Con Korfiatis said, “At the moment we’re just assessing what’s going on. We will take a breath while the next little period plays out to understand what’s going on with the aircraft, and then continue.”

However, the plan had always been to retain the existing fleet of 11 A320s, given the strength of the market in Saudi Arabia, he added. “The intent was never to phase them out anyway, as the market is still growing. Any MAXs that come in this year or next will be for continued growth, not replacement.” Besides, the most senior A320 in the fleet is only 18 months old, while the latest arrived just weeks ago, he added. All are leased.

The market for low-cost services has been so strong since flyadeal began operations around 18 months ago that the company has delayed starting international routes to concentrate on the domestic market. That market has provided flyadeal with 3.5 million passengers since it began operations.

“If you’d asked me a year ago if we would be flying internationally by now, I would have said yes. But the domestic market has overwhelmed us with the volume that’s there.”

Korfiatis now hopes that international routes will start by the end of 2019, but added that no destinations have yet been chosen.

Flyadeal is a sister company to national carrier Saudia. “The group sees this as a segmentation of the market.” Saudia occupied a different segment. Despite all of flyadeal’s 12 sectors also being flown by Saudia, “we’re not all fighting for the same people. I think that’s a testament to the segmentation.”

Alan Dron