RAK Airways will issue a request for proposal (RFP) for CFM-powered Airbus A320s this week, chief executive John Brayford tells Flightglobal, with previous searches having identified just one aircraft "in any way suitable" for its upcoming fleet expansion.
The Ras al Khaimah-based carrier operates two CFM-powered A320s and has announced plans to lease a third aircraft in early March 2013, followed by a fourth unit in late summer.
According to Brayford, however, preliminary studies for the third unit indicated that "there are very few relatively new CFM-powered A320s on the market". He says scarce availability has prompted the airline to bring forward its search for the fourth unit.
"We're going to do an RFP to all the lessors this week," he confirms. "We'd like [the fourth unit to be] an aircraft that's midway through its first cycle; around three or four years old; CFM-powered; [CFM56-5B] /P is perfectly acceptable with the 62.5 tonne zero fuel weight."
Brayford continues: "The initial searches that we had [for the third unit] only came up with one aircraft that was in any way suitable. And my concern is that if we wait until spring before we look for aircraft four - for winter next year - we'll be in exactly the same situation.
"Obviously there are a number of IAE-powered A320s, but from our point of view we'd like to stick to CFM. That's how our engineering support is set up."
Emphasising the benefits of younger aircraft, Brayford notes that one of the carrier's A320s (MSN 2158, 2004 vintage) is already displaying a fuel penalty of nearly 2%. "When you work out about 400 block hours, that is significant," he says. "We do work the aircraft hard."
RAK's existing aircraft were delivered on five-year operating leases when the airline re-launched in 2010. Brayford is looking to sign "relatively short leases" on the next two units as well, in lieu of a "long-term study of our aircraft requirements" tentatively scheduled for late 2013 or early 2014.
"By the end of next year we'll have been operating for three years on a regional model with the A320s, so we will have a decent track-record to prove the validity of the business plan," he says. "The independent study I'm recommending will determine which aircraft we need."
RAK had considered deploying A319s on its shortest routes, but Brayford concluded that the type's lower operating costs would have been offset by the negative impact of reduced average cycle lengths.
"If you only operate it on these very short cycles, you reduce the cycle length from 2.5 to possibly 1.5 flying hours," he explains. "That increases what you contribute to the maintenance reserve very significantly. You end up on a balance over five years of something like $25,000 a month lower cost for the A319 against the A320.
"In return, you've got a three or four tonne payload benefit for the A320, plus you've got 40 or 50 [extra] seats ... So for our regional model, the A319 would not be a suitable aircraft."