Middle Eastern carrier Flydubai is looking to extend leases on aircraft which had been due to leave the fleet next year, to help cope with the capacity problems arising from continued grounding of the Boeing 737 Max.

Flydubai has 14 Max jets. It says the airline’s fleet of 42 737-800s leaves it “severely impeded” in terms of opening new routes or raising frequencies. It has supplemented its fleet with three 737s leased from Smartwings.

“We are currently exploring options to extend the term for the lease of aircraft that were due to leave our fleet in 2021,” says Flydubai.

While the carrier managed to return to profit last year, the 737 Max problems have “significantly impacted” its growth strategy, says chief executive Ghaith Al Ghaith, and the financial results do not reflect the “loss of market position” and the “unfilled opportunities” the airline could have taken.

Flydubai has unveiled a profit of Dhs198 million ($54 million) for the full year to 31 December 2019, despite a 2.6% fall in revenues to Dhs6 billion.

Falling prices helped keep fuel expenditure below 26% of operating costs, but the airline points out that it was unable to take advantage of the efficiency expected from 737 Max operations.

Al Ghaith says the company has benefited from an interim settlement with Boeing – which remains confidential – for “certain compensation” for the 737 Max situation.

“This agreement has contributed towards this year’s results,” he acknowledges. “But in no way can it compensate for the loss of business opportunity or market share experienced by the airline.

“Discussions are continuing between the parties regarding the ongoing impact of the grounding.”