The recent formation and launch of Air Arabia Jordan is unlikely to be the last incarnation of the Air Arabia brand and group chief executive officer, Adel Ali, suggested that there are many market opportunities for the airline group to expand beyond its existing operations in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt, Morocco and the Kingdom of Jordan.
“We have a unique name and are currently spread between Morocco and the United Arab Emirates, but between the two there are lots of countries,” said Ali. “Some countries are very welcoming, some are still resistant. But I’m optimistic that as they see the success of such a business to the community and the economic benefit that brings to each airport in the country, I think more doors will open for us.”
Air Arabia was formed in February 2003 and launched operations later the same year from Sharjah International Airport. Over ten years later it has established itself as one of the prominent low-cost carriers in the region and also established a base at Ras Al Khaimah International Airport to further support its home market.
“It was the right thing to do,” Ali said on the subject of establishing its base at Sharjah International Airport. “If I was to do it again I would do exactly the same thing. Geographically it is the right location with a good catchment serving the additional Emirates that don’t have national airlines as well as serving the big markets of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The UAE is an expansive home market that provides a recipe for travel and business and tourism continues to grow.”
Speaking during the Routes Middle East & Africa forum in the Kingdom of Bahrain, Ali said it is clear that countries across the Middle East and Africa look very differently at the economic impact of a liberalised air service market and what opportunity it offers, citing Kuwait and Jordan as good examples of destination markets that have seen tremendous success from more relaxed regulation. “In the past nobody flew to the countries, remove the restrictions and now everybody is flying there, carrying many passengers and stimulating demand,” he said.
The respected airline executive said that open skies is perhaps not the right term to describe liberalisation as “the skies have always been open”. The challenge, he noted was for “airports to open up” and let airlines take advantage of the free skies. "Every Middle East government says 'we want more flights but...' It's time to remove the ‘but’," he added.
Air Arabia appears to have no plans to enter the long-haul market and will stick to its single aircraft fleet concept that has enabled it to grow from Sharjah International Airport in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and its other bases across Arabia. “So far on a spreadsheet they [low-cost long-haul airlines] don’t work,” he said.
Long-haul may not be in the plans, but growth will continue, according to Ali, and Africa is certainly a market of opportunity for Air Arabia. "Africa is one of the places where we see huge potential, but it has to change a lot to prosper," he said and added that markets in the Continent are “thin” and thus they “need time” to prosper and make money.
One market where Air Arabia has already secured rights to grow is China and it has already launched flights between Sharjah and Urumqi in the Xinjiang district in the west of the country, a five hour plus sector. The three times weekly link was launched in February 2015 and the Chinese city is one of three markets that the airline actually has rights to serve in China, according to Ali, the problem is the airline doesn’t currently have the equipment to serve them.
“Our Airbus A320 fleet currently only has the range to serve Urumqi, but we are certainly interested in flying to other markets in China. If the new generation aircraft do what we're told by the manufacturers they will do we will grow our network [in China]," he said.
You can watch our EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW with Adel Ali from Routes Middle East & Africa, below...