Al-Ain, United Arab Emirates – Saudi low-cost carrier Sama Airlines plans to buy 20 airplanes over the next four years from either Boeing or Airbus, its chief commercial officer said on Monday.

Kevin Steele said the privately-held firm, which currently operates a fleet of seven Boeing 737-800 aircraft, would make a decision by the end of the year.

“We are looking at finalising … 20 aircraft in four years,” Steele told reporters on the sidelines of a conference.

Asked which planes the carrier might purchase, Steele said the choice was between Airbus’ A320 or Boeing’s 737-800.

“To survive you’ve got to be a 20 to 25 aircraft company,” Steele said. “We’re looking at external financing. All options are being considered.”

Sama, which runs short-haul flights to 16 destinations within Saudi Arabia as well as nearby countries like Egypt and Jordan, was founded in 2005 and began flights in 2007.

Its main competitors in Saudi Arabia include low-cost carrier Nas and national carrier Saudi Arabia Airlines but it also competes with Air Arabia , which is based in the United Arab Emirates.

Steele said the airline saw a 10 percent decline in traffic in August and September due to fears about the spread of swine flu. So far, there have been over 3,500 confirmed cases of the H1N1 virus in Saudi Arabia, according to local media. Some 26 people have died.

“The problem we faced was with swine flu which affected traffic to and from Jeddah,” he said.

Saudi Arabia has urged Muslims who may be vulnerable to the virus — such as the elderly and those with existing health problems — to postpone making a pilgrimage to Mecca this year to avoid the spread.