Flydubai could take Airbus jets if Boeing MAX grounding prolonged

DUBAI (Reuters) - Flydubai’s chairman warned on Monday the airline could order Airbus A320neos as replacements for Boeing 737 MAX jets, telling the U.S. planemaker to improve communication with customers.

FILE PHOTO: A Flydubai airplane is pictured in the sky over Dubai, United Arab Emirates February 13, 2014. REUTERS/Jan Seba/File Photo

The 737 MAX has been grounded after an Ethiopian Airlines jet crashed in March and a LionAir jet crashed last October, killing a total of 346 people.

The Middle East carrier operates a fleet of only 737 aircraft and is one of the largest MAX operators having ordered 250 of the new model narrow-body jets.

Flydubai has had to ground its 14 MAX jets, accounting for roughly 10 percent of its fleet, and cancel up to 15 flights a day.

“That gave me an option to talk to Airbus,” Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed al-Maktoum told reporters at the Arabian Travel Market exhibition in Dubai.

“You have to understand that we do not have a definite date on when this (MAX) aircraft will be flying.”

Flydubai said in March the MAX was integral to its future.

Other airlines have weighed their options since the grounding. A decision from Saudi Arabian budget carrier flyadeal on whether to proceed with an existing order for 30 MAX jets is imminent, its chief executive said on Sunday.

Flydubai potentially swapping any or part of its order comes as the world’s largest planemaker faces one of the biggest crises in its 103-year history.

Boeing, which was holding its annual meeting in Chicago on Monday, said flydubai was a valued customer and that it was sorry for the disruption to its operations.

“We are focused on earning their trust and supporting all of our customers around the world in every way possible to ensure complete confidence in the 737 MAX and a safe return to commercial flight,” a company spokeswoman said.

Flydubai is the second biggest MAX customer and last committed to Boeing’s best selling jet in 2017 with an order worth $27 billion including purchasing options.

Sheikh Ahmed, who is also the Emirates Chairman, said flydubai would act within its contract terms with Boeing but would not would not allow anything to stop the airline’s growth.

He did not say when flydubai would decide on whether it pursues a replacement order with Airbus.

Sheikh Ahmed also said that Boeing’s communication with customer over the grounding and how it plans to recertify the plane “could be better.”

Boeing has said it is developing a software fix and new pilot training for regulatory approval in order to get the company’s best-selling plane recertified.

Sheikh Ahmed said more needed to be known about those fixes and the how long the plane grounding will last. He said flydubai would seek compensation from Boeing.

“I have to ask it. It is my right. I didn’t ground those 14 aircraft,” he said.

(This story has been refiled to fix typographical error in paragraph 10)

Reporting by Alexander Cornwell; Editing by Jason Neely/Keith Weir