Saudi Arabian carrier flynas is prepared for growing competition in its home market from new entrants Al Maha Airways and Saudi Gulf Airlines and it is confident that a recent restructuring of the business under its former management team will put it in a strong position to continue its development.
The airline, formerly known as NasAir, carried record passenger levels in 2014, but beyond that growth, structural and mindset changes to the business have helped it adjust to the market as it has switched to a tighter low-cost model and single type aircraft fleet. “It is not so much having the label of a low-cost carrier, but the ability to think like a low-cost carrier,” said Paul Byrne, chief executive officer, flynas, on the sidelines of this year’s inaugural Routes Middle East & Africa forum on the Kingdom of Bahrain.
Around 70 per cent of flynas’ operations are focused in or to/from Saudi Arabia and therefore Byrne suggested that due to local market regulations and pricing systems, the airline cannot be defined as a true low-cost carrier. However, he acknowledged that it was clearly a “Saudi low-cost carrier” when compared with its local rival.
The long-awaited arrival of new entrants into Saudi Arabian domestic skies is set to take place before the end of the year, bringing new competition in what for a long time has been a highly regulated market dominated by the Kingdom’s state-controlled national carrier, Saudia and more recently also served by flynas, one of the fastest growing operators in the Middle East region.
“Bring it on,” said Byrne on the subject of increased competition in the Saudi Arabian market. “Competition is not something new for us. In fact we currently only serve one route in the country that has no direct competition, that is less than one per cent of our network. We have become accustomed to competition and it is something we do not fear,” he added.
Like many new entrants in emerging markets the big issue for flynas is stimulating markets and getting more people to fly. “The challenge is pretty much people getting off the road, out of their cars and into our planes,” said Byrne.
Growth for the carrier will be primarily in the domestic market but Byrne acknowledges a need to grow flynas’ activities in international markets. “We need to do more flying within the Gulf Cooperation Council,” said Byrne, but he ruled out a return to long-haul flying for the carrier.
The airline may have worked hard to reduce its cost structure and develop a low-cost ethos, but even that wasn’t enough for it to succeed in a recent expansion into the low-cost, long-haul sector which had seen the addition of A330 widebodies to its fleet for flights to the UK and Malaysia, among other destinations.
"It's possible if you're completely focused on it,” he said on the potential success of the model. “We dabbled. It didn’t work for us as we weren't good at it and are poorer for it, but have learnt from the experience and are certainly wiser as a result.” There airline is instead looking at entering into partnerships with other carriers to serve long-haul markets.”
“If we want to go the long-haul route we will do that through codeshare,” he explained. “There are plenty of airlines that do that well. We don’t!”
You can watch our EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW with Paul Byrne from Routes Middle East & Africa, below...