By Alex Macheras
Queen Alia International Airport in Amman, Jordan, where the Mediterranean meets the Middle East, is the hub and home airport for flag carrier airline, Royal Jordanian.
Over the last year, the carrier has improved its flight connections options through Amman airport with the intention to shift its focus away from its traditional ‘point to point’ travel model, instead opting to ensure passengers are able to use the airline to fly to destinations across the route network via Amman.
At the airlines’ headquarters in downtown Amman, I sat down with CEO and president of Royal Jordanian, Stefan Pichler, to discuss the ‘year-long process’ the airline has undertaken in order to reach a decision on a new narrowbody aircraft order. The upcoming aircraft order will see over 20 jets, both partially-replace and expand, its existing single-aisle fleet of Airbus A320 family aircraft and Embraer 195 and 175 jets.
“For us, there was a lot of change throughout the year-long assessment because Airbus took over Bombardier CSeries, and a new partnership was formed between Boeing and Embraer. We started with four aircraft suppliers; somehow the landscape has changed and reduced it to two,” Pichler told me when discussing the tie-ups between aircraft manufacturers.
While some airlines operate aircraft from a sole aircraft manufacturer in order to minimise costs, Royal Jordanian operates a mix of Airbus, Boeing and Embraer jets. “Everything comes down to dollars. We have been in the discussions with aircraft manufacturers, engine suppliers — and ultimately, all aircraft can fly. Commonality is nice. But it’s got a dollar sign. There isn’t an “I love it” option, everything comes down to money,” Pichler stressed.
With a wide-range of narrowbody aircraft available, including the Airbus A220 (former Bombardier CSeries), and Boeing 737 MAX jets (which are currently grounded worldwide, following fatal crashes at two airlines), Pichler exclusively confirmed that Royal Jordanian “explored 16 different options for aircraft, including the Airbus A220 and Embraer E2.”
Airbus A220 and Embraer E2 variants cater for the 100-seat capacity market, with some variants (including the A220-300, and E195-E2) able to offer slightly more seats onboard.
“Loyalty to an aircraft manufacturer is not important to me. Best financial offer wins. We need the best deal, full stop,” Pichler told me. “We are already happy with Airbus, with Boeing, and with Embraer.”
When I asked about the most important factor for Royal Jordanian while assessing aircraft for the upcoming order, Pichler explained “the aircraft type must fit the network, in terms of capacity. That’s what matters most,” he said. “The recipe for financial disaster is overcapacity. Offering lots of seats, trying to sell them all with high costs — this isn’t something we would do. Our mandate is different. We are small. We are assessing everything against financial viability,” he added.
Given Boeing’s 737 MAX jets are some of the 16 aircraft options Royal Jordanian have assessed for its narrowbody order, Pichler wanted to make clear that the current crisis Boeing is facing did not affect the aircraft order decision. “Our order can’t be influenced by short-term ‘noise’ such as the current 737 MAX grounding. It’s temporary. Boeing will recover, and so the MAX jet was part of the considerations.”
Pichler confirmed that an announcement on Royal Jordanian’s narrowbody order will be made by the end of Q2, 2019.
Royal Jordanian’s upcoming fleet replacement and expansion could see the introduction of a brand new aircraft type for the Jordanian flag carrier, but it’s clear by Pichler’s “best offer wins” approach that the narrowbody order is truly anyone’s game. Airbus have offered Royal Jordanian an array of options, ranging from the A220 to the new A321LR — an aircraft able to operate mid/long haul routes while retaining the efficiencies of a short-haul jet.
Meanwhile, in the US, Boeing (which hasn’t received a 737 MAX aircraft order since the grounding period commenced in March 2019) initiated talks with Royal Jordanian several months prior to the 737 MAX becoming a household name following the belief that a new anti-stall system known as “MCAS” was a majority contributor in both of the fatal 737 MAX crashes suffered by Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air.
Embraer too — has all to play for. While aircraft sales for the E2 jet have been slow, the manufacturer is upbeat on the prospect of new orders following the launch of Embraer’s joint venture with Boeing.
* The author is an aviation analyst. Twitter handle: @AlexInAir
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