Reunion carrier Air Austral is examining a possible renewal of its long-haul fleet from around 2023, following its decision to acquire Airbus A220s for short-haul modernisation.
The airline has signed a purchase agreement for three A220-300s which will be used to replace its pair of Boeing 737-800s and its single ATR 72.
Air Austral says it will configure the aircraft with 132 seats in two classes, including 12 in the business-class cabin.
The airline will take the A220s from November 2020. Two will arrive next year with the third in the first quarter of 2021.
Air Austral says the aircraft is "perfectly suited" to the carrier's needs, enabling it to simplify its fleet to a single type and increase frequencies on routes to Madagascar – the base of partner Air Madagascar – as well as South Africa.
"The economic and operational performance of the A220 enables us to consider rationally and efficiently the development of our regional network," says chief executive Marie-Joseph Male.
While Reunion is a French territory its long-haul fleet is based on Boeing twinjets, including the 777-300ER and the 787.
Two of the 777-300ERs are relatively new, produced in 2016, although the third is a 2011 airframe. The airline's two Rolls-Royce Trent-powered 787-8s are early-build aircraft, among the first to be produced by Boeing, and were picked up by Air Austral in 2016.
Air Austral says it is "continuing to reflect" on the renewal of its long-haul aircraft. But the Airbus short-haul agreement gives the airframer a firmer position with the carrier from which it could potentially offer its A350 or A330neo for long-haul operations.
Airbus had previously agreed to supply a pair of A380s, configured with high-density seating, to Air Austral but the order was axed in 2016.