By Frederik Richter
Loss-making airline plans to shift order book from wide-body to narrow-body planes.
Bahrain's state-owned airline Gulf Air has leased two Embraer 170 planes from the Brazilian manufacturer, as it shifts its focus to shorter routes, and said it could order more.
The airline said in a statement it had signed a lease with Embraer for three years, with an option to extend this by another five years.
"If our customers like it, and we think they will, we will order more," Gulf Air Chief Executive Samer Majali said during a press conference.
He said the carrier needed around 10 regional jets for its fleet in the long run, and would consider regional jets of other suppliers such as Airbus and Bombardier.
At the same press conference, Jose Luis Molina, a vice president at Embraer, said the company sees the potential to sell around 50 regional jets in the Middle East over the next three to five years.
Gulf Air's Majali also said discussions with Airbus and Boeing on the current order book were ongoing. Gulf Air has up to 20 Boeing 787s on order, as well as 15 Airbus A320s and 20 Airbus A330s, a wide-body aircraft.
The loss-making airline plans to shift its order book from wide-body to narrow-body planes and regional jets as it changes its route network.
It was previously owned by several Gulf states but had to realign its network after Oman, Abu Dhabi and Qatar gave up their stakes, partly in order to establish their own airlines.
It plans to cancel 15 routes and open 20 new ones as part of a strategy to increase traffic in the Middle East as it seeks a niche between regional low-cost airlines such as Air Arabia and Bahrain Air, and state-owned airlines of rich oil producers with large fleet expansion programmes.
The carrier has said it expects to make an operating loss of $510 million in 2009.
Airlines in the region mostly operate long-distance jets, having in recent years established themselves as hub carriers connecting Europe and Asia. (Reuters)