BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – A new Brunei-based airline called GallopAir will take to the skies in the third quarter of 2024, positioning the sultanate as a potential aviation hub for the BIMP-EAGA region.

On Wednesday, the airline signed a letter of intent to purchase 30 aircraft from Chinese planemaker Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC) in a deal worth US$2 billion.

The signing took place at the China-ASEAN expo in Nanning, witnessed by Hj Amer Hishamuddin, permanent secretary at Brunei’s Ministry of Development, and Daniel Leong, acting CEO of the Brunei Economic Development Board.

In a statement, GallopAir said the deal would have “profound implications” for both Brunei and Southeast Asia, enhancing connectivity in the region by offering direct flights from Bandar Seri Begawan to several cities in China and the Brunei Darussalam–Indonesia–Malaysia–Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA).

Little is known about GallopAir, which is expected to be only the second Brunei-based airline operator after national carrier Royal Brunei Airlines. The Brunei government has yet to issue any statement about the airline, which has an office address listed in Batu Bersurat, but no official website.

According to Reuters, China-based Shaanxi Tianju Investment Group has a stake in the carrier, but no other details of its ownership structure have been released.

Brunei – the next aviation hub in Southeast Asia?

The Letter of Intent signed in Nanning outlined the purchase order made by GallopAir, comprising 15 ARJ21 aircraft, three of which are freighters, one ARJ21 business jet, one ARJ21 medical plane, and 15 C919 aircraft.

The C919 was developed by COMAC to rival Airbus’s A320neo and Boeing’s 737 MAX single-aisle jet families.

Leaflets provided by GallopAir at the China-ASEAN Expo listed potential routes from Brunei that would include flights to Darwin, Australia; Phuket, Pattaya and Chiang Mai in Thailand; Manila, Puerto Princesa, Cebu and Davao in the Philippines; Bandung, Surabaya, Bali, Balikpapan and Samarinda in Indonesia; as well as Langkawi, Penang, Ipoh, Johor Bahru, Kuching, Miri, Kota Kinabalu and Tawau in Malaysia.

The airline would also service 14 cities in China.

GallopAir said the deal marked a “strategic partnership” that would align the goals of China’s “One Belt and Road Initiative” with Brunei’s “Vision 2025“.