Lebanon's national carrier, Middle East Airlines (MEA), will make a decision next month on an order for either four Airbus A330-900neo or four Boeing 787-9 aircraft according to this interview between the Lebanese Plane Spotters Facebook group and MEA's CEO Mohammed El-Hout.https://www.facebook.com/LebanesePlaneS ... 0730900781https://www.facebook.com/LebanesePlaneS ... 901330364/
LPS: Knowing that MEA maintains a young average fleet age of 6-7 years, will the current fleet be substituted by the new one?
MH: MEA sells or returns any plane that overlaps 13 years of service, regardless of the fact that planes are manufactured to fly for over 20-30 years. All our ODs that are older than 13 years will be sold, and all our T7s older than 13 years old as well will be returned back to the leaser. We are expecting 15 new planes, 11 Airbus A321neo and 4 wide-bodies. Either Airbus A330-900neo or Boeing 787-9. Deliveries will start from 2019 until 2021.
LPS: Is MEA leaning more towards the Airbus A330-900neo or the Boeing 787-9?
MH: To be honest the Airbus A330-900neo has an advantage over the Boeing 787-9 as our pilots and cabin crew are used and type rated on such an aircraft. However, the final decision will be taken next month!
I would love to see Boeing win this one, especially since MEA has a past history with Boeing operating 707s and 747-200s, but realistically I see this going to Airbus for the type rating advantage.
MEA currently has an order for 11 Airbus A321neo aircraft which they will start taking delivery of next year. They currently have 18 aircraft total, 13 Airbus A320-200s and 5 Airbus A330-200s as well as 2 Embraer Legacy 500 business jets operated under their VIP charter service, Cedar Executive.https://www.mea.com.lb/http://www.cedarexecutive.com/
They actually currently operate 14 A320s and 5 A330s. I may be slightly off, but I believe that 6 of the A320s are leased and all other aircraft are owned. The idea is that the 11 A321NEOs will replace the oldest A320s, keeping the most recent 3 frames, the ones with sharklets. I don't expect those will hang on much longer, so I would guess there are options with that order that would be converted pretty soon.
MEA switched from A321s (6 of them) to A320s (the current 14) and I have heard from several pilots that there was a little regret in that decision. They were able to fill A321s in the past, but used the A320 to open new routes and increase frequencies (LHR, DXB, JED, RUH, AMM are just a few destinations that get 2 or 3 flights per day). Added destinations turned out to be very popular, and despite the increased frequencies, they are still getting very high load factors. This seems to be true given they are switching back to A321, and seemingly not decreasing the amount of aircraft.
The Business Class on the A320s is quite dismal unfortunately, of course that's not a problem on the 20 minute hope to LCA or even the 3 hour trip to the Gulf but it is a deal breaker for many passengers flying to LHR, where you could end up sitting in the aircraft for 6 hours or more if you consider holding patterns and boarding time on a single aisle. BA, on the other hand, offers lie-flats on their mid-haul A321s, which are always full.
Regarding the A339 vs 789, as exciting as it would be to see Boeing return to the MEA fleet, I don't see it happening. The cost of training their crew of completely new type will complicate their operation, especially for an airline that small. I can imagine this would be just as complicated (if not more) in terms of maintenance. With a 330neo there is virtually no changes to be done, but a 787 would incur significant costs, which I doubt will be that easily balanced out by a difference in operating costs. Finally, they are replacing 4 of the A330s, the 5th and newest frame will be around for a while. Its not the craziest thing I've heard, but it would be pretty strange to operate 1 A330 and 4 787s. I was even under the impression that there was a 6th A330 expected to join the fleet in 2018, but that seems to have faded away.
I'm generally of the opinion that we will eventually see 14 A321neos and 6 A339s in the fleet, plus the 2 Legacy 500s. MEA has been pretty consistent, they leased their entire 2001 fleet, then replaced it with a little more purchased aircraft, then leased a few more for growth, which are now going to be replaced with purchased ones. That makes me wonder if also in the near future we will see leases for more A321s, even possibly A321LRs to be used for more frequency on the west African destinations.
To answer the question on using wide body aircraft on short routes, there are easy comparison points: EK with 3x 77W daily to Beirut, AF with daily 77W plus seasonal 332, even TK now flying the A333 once or twice daily. The traffic is there, and the timing is important. Most MEA flights leave BEY in the early morning on the first run, the airport is completely saturated at that time, there are take off queues through the morning rush hour. I don't think they are interested in having two narrow bodies go to the same destination two hours apart. Add to that restrictions that I know play a role at LHR, CDG, and even IST (bilaterals in this case) and you have your answer. I'm actually mildly surprised that we are not seeing a larger wide body order. I for one have never been on an A330 on MEA with less than a 90% load factor.