Sharjah-based low cost carrier (LCC) Air Arabia has placed an order for 120 Airbus A320neo family aircraft at the 2019 Dubai Air Show, in a deal worth more than $14 billion at list prices.
The order consists of 73 A320neo, 27 A321neo, and 20 A321XLR jets and delivery of the jets will begin in 2024.
Air Arabia is one of the biggest airlines you’ve never heard of
Air Arabia is the second-largest LCC in the Middle East after flydubai (though it will be the largest by the end of 2019) and operates an all-Airbus fleet. Along with its Moroccan and Egyptian subsidiaries, the carrier operates 52 Airbus A320ceos and three Airbus A321LRs (with three more on order). The carrier serves 123 destinations across Europe, Africa, and Asia. The vast majority of these destinations are served from the carrier’s home base at Sharjah (it’s largest hub). The carrier’s subsidiaries also operate hubs at Borg El Arab Airport in Alexandria, Egypt and Mohamed V International Airport in Casablanca, Morocco.
In many ways, Air Arabia is Sharjah International Airport. While there are 13 airlines that offer passenger service to the third largest airport in the United Arab Emirates (12.o million passengers in 2018), Air Arabia is by far the largest carrier with roughly 80% market share of seats and departures. Air Arabia is close to 10 times larger than the second biggest airline (Air India and its low-cost subsidiary Air India Express). On a typical day, the airline offers between 85 and 90 departures, with a heavy focus on destinations in the Indian sub continent and the Middle East. This is driven by the large volume of guest and temporary workers in Sharjah that originate from those countries.
Air Arabia’s second largest operation is based in Morocco, where it has a hub in Casablanca and focus cities in Fez, Nador, Marrakech, and Tangier. Air Arabia Maroc has a fleet of 10 A320s and serves a mix of ethnic visiting families and relatives (VFR) traffic for Moroccans living in Europe and tourists to Morocco. Finally, the carrier operates a variety of point to point routes from Alexandria and Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt using a fleet of four A320s.
Another win for the A321XLR
While the A320neo and A321neo will mainly be used to bulk up existing services and add new short haul destinations, the potential game changer for Air Arabia is the A321XLR. With an effective range of ~4,000 nautical miles, the A321XLR can fly from Sharjah to all of Africa (as far south as Johannesburg), all of Europe (including Iceland), everything west of Japan (including Beijing and Seoul), and most of Southeast Asia (Jakarta and Bali should be just in range). This has the potential to elevate Sharjah as a true competing hub to Abu Dhabi and Dubai for lower cost passengers.
It also represents yet another win for the A321XLR with no Boeing competition in sight. Since it was launched earlier this year at the Paris Air Show, the A321XLR has sold remarkably well. The order from Air Arabia takes the type past 200 firm orders in the first five months on offer, despite the fact that Airbus is basically sold out of delivery slots until 2023. The A321XLR is the only aircraft in the 180-240 seat range (the so-called middle of the market) that offers range above 3,500 nautical miles (4,028 miles), and Boeing just doesn’t have an answer. The 737 MAX is still grounded (and less capable) and the MAX mess has pushed back the timeline for a clean sheet middle-of-market competitor. Airbus will likely sell many more A321XLRs before Boeing gets its act together.