Gulf Air sees room for only a few long-haul jets

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Bahrain's Gulf Air appears poised to shelve further long-haul aircraft orders after determining a need for just a handful of larger types in its fleet.

Gulf Air still has 20 Airbus A330-300s on the European airframer's books, and has already cut its order for Boeing 787s from 24 to 16.

But chief executive Samer Majali, speaking to Flightglobal Pro during the Bahrain Grand Prix, said that the airline only needed "single digit widebodies".

Majali insists the carrier will continue to pursue its turnaround strategy which focuses on serving regional connections using narrowbodies and smaller jets, and using only a "minimum number" of long-haul aircraft.

Gulf Air foresees a fleet requirement of 35-40 aircraft of which at least half would be Airbus A320-family narrowbodies, and another 10 or so would be regional jets - the type officially undeclared but almost certainly the Bombardier CSeries.

This fleet structure differs substantially from that laid out in earlier plans. Gulf Air ordered up to 44 long-haul aircraft in 2008 before Majali, appointed the following year, set out his strategy to restore the airline to profitability.

Over the past two years the carrier has halved the average age of its fleet, to 5.7 years, by introducing a dozen younger A320s as well as Embraer regional jets, and withdrawing its Airbus A340s and older A320s.

Majali says the airline does not need the A340s' range, and adds that the aircraft are "very expensive to operate". The carrier is restructuring its network, aiming to have twice-daily services to all the regional capital cities, and these high-frequency localised routes demand smaller aircraft.

"We're not the most luxurious carrier, in terms of suites - what we try to offer is value for money," Majali says.

Gulf Air believes there is a market for lie-flat seats on narrowbody aircraft and has started modifying the business-class cabin on some of its A321s and A320s. The A321s will have eight business-class seats and be deployed on routes to India. The A320s, used on European routes, will have 16 business seats. "It's a new idea and we think it'll work," says Majali.