Tunisair is on the verge of signing an order for six Airbus A330neos, chief executive Elyes Mnakbi confirmed during an industry conference in Sharjah this week.
The Tunisian flag-carrier will use the aircraft to develop its long-range network, primarily by launching flights between Tunis and New York JFK Airport.
“We will order six A330neo,” Mnakbi told me at the annual meeting of the Arab Air Carriers’ Organization on Tuesday. “Three will be [delivered] in 2019, and three others in 2020. Maybe three options [will also be agreed].”
The company previously signed for three A330-200s and three A350-800s in 2008, before cancelling the A350 order five years later. Two of the current-generation A330s were then delivered in 2015, while the third commitment was scrapped.
Mnakbi said Tunisair will keep its existing A330s in service until their 12-year leases expire, resulting in a wide-body fleet of eight aircraft by the end of 2020.
The chief executive declined to identify other targets for long-range route development, but said he wants to transform Tunis into a sixth-freedom hub linking poorly-connected African cities with the rest of the world.
“We have a lot of demand from African countries to get them to Tunis, and then to go to other countries in Europe and Montreal,” Mnakbi explained, referring to the flag-carrier’s only existing long-haul destination. “Maybe when we will open New York it will be an opportunity for African people to go there.”
Tunisair already has an outstanding narrow-body order for five A320neos and expects to receive three units in 2019 followed by the final pair in 2020.
Those aircraft will facilitate expansion of the short-haul network, with management aiming to grow their African footprint at a rate of two routes per year.
Cotonou in Benin will become the next addition on December 13th, followed by Douala in Cameroon and N'Djamena in Chad in 2018. The expanding fleet will then be used to open Lagos in Nigeria and Accra in Ghana in 2019, while the targets for 2020 have yet to be decided.
Tunisair is also likely to place an order for “two or three” Bombardier CSeries, Mnakbi confirmed, pending the approval of its government shareholder.