South African Express (EXY, Johannesburg O.R. Tambo) is close to finalizing a deal for the lease of twenty unspecified 90-seater aircraft airline Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Inati Ntshanga has told African Aerospace.

In an interview, Ntshanga said talks with a number of lessors were currently at an "advanced" stage with firm agreements expected to be signed by early March of next year.

South African Express currently operates a diverse fleet of ten CRJ200ERs, two CRJ700s, and ten Dash 8-400s. But despite manufacturer commonality (Bombardier Aerospace), the airline has complained of increased costs being incurred through MRO and AOG events.

“We want to have a common fleet by 2022,” Ntshanga said. “As the current leases expire, we will replace them with 90-seat aircraft.”

Although consideration has been given to the C919 from COMAC, the M90 from Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation, and the SSJ 100/95 from Sukhoi Civil Aircraft, Ntshanga said the CRJ900 and E190 were the strongest contenders at this point in time.

The loss-making parastatal sees the fleet upgauging exercise as a panacea to its long running financial woes. In October, management was forced to ask the South African Treasury for additional financial assistance after the poor state of its accounts prevented it from securing a going-concern status.

Having already bailed out South African Airways (SA, Johannesburg O.R. Tambo) to the tune of ZAR5 billion in September, Pretoria has since recruited US-based business consultancy Bain & Co. to advise it on matters relating to strategy and corporate structure at South Africa's three state-owned airlines which, aside from South African Express and SAA, also includes LCC Mango Airlines (JE, Johannesburg O.R. Tambo).

Under the three-month long contract, Bain & Co. and South African firm Abacus Advisory will also ascertain which non-core assets are to be retained and which are to be sold.