Despite the decline of the tourism industry since 1997 and the short-term impact of the war in Iraq on regional airlines, Egypt Air says the order is part of a long-term upgrade and expansion of its fleet. We have been working on this deal for more than a year, and our long-term planning has taken into account both wars and recessions, says chief executive officer Ahmed el-Nady. When you buy a fleet like this you are talking about five, 10 years in the future, so this is not an unusual time at all.

El-Nady is the head of airline operations at Egypt Air, one of six new affiliated companies created last year during an overhaul of the aviation sector. These executive bodies now operate under the umbrella of the Egypt Air Holding Company, which was created with the liberalisation of the sector in mind. At this point, Egypt Air has not yet totally separated from the old government holding company. But the process of detaching our assets is expected by the end of June, says El-Nady.

One of the major challenges still facing the sector is the expansion of Cairo airport, a project that has been treading water for the past 10 years. The renamed Holding Company for Airports & Air Trafficis in charge of all airports other than Cairo, which is still the preserve of the Cairo Airport Authority.