Egyptian start-up Nile Air plans to launch operations early next year with leased Airbus A321s, ahead of receiving the first of nine similar aircraft ordered directly from the manufacturer in 2012.

The Cairo-based airline signed a memorandum of understanding with Airbus today at the Dubai air show for nine A321s. No engine selection was announced.

Saudi Arabia-based Al Tayyar Travel Group will be the majority shareholder in Nile Air and the company’s president Dr Nasser Al-Tayyar says the ownership structure of the airline is currently being finalised: “The National Bank of Egypt will hold a minority stake, and 30% will be publicly held. We are also finalising arrangements with a strategic partner.”

Al-Tayyar says that his company is the “biggest agent moving tourists between Saudi Arabia and Egypt”.

Discussions are currently underway with several lessors regarding the lease of two A321s for delivery in the second quarter of 2008. The airline will operate these, and possibly a third aircraft, ahead of the delivery of its first ordered A321 in the first quarter of 2012, says Al-Tayyar.

Nile Air will configure its A321s in a two class layout with around 190 seats. The aircraft will serve the Saudi, Gulf and Middle East markets from its Cairo base, says Al-Tayyar.

Planned destinations include Dammam, Jeddah, Medina and Riyadh in Saudi Arabia as well as Bahrain, Dubai, Doha, and Kuwait.