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Almost six years since it closed its doors due financial difficulties, Kuwaiti operator Wataniya Airways is moving closer to relaunching flights across the Arabian Peninsula and into North Africa and the Indian sub-continent. After announcing its intent to return to the air back in the second half of 2016, local Arabic daily, Al Qabas is reporting that the operator is targeting a mid-2017 resumption of commercial flights.
Wataniya Airways was a legacy of a liberalisation of Kuwait’s air service market during the 2000s and launched operations from Kuwait International Airport in January 2009, operating a fleet of seven leased Airbus A320s to destinations across the Persian Gulf, the wider Middle East and Europe. However, overcapacity in the local market from new entrants led the carrier to scale back operations in late 2010 ahead of its closure in March 2011.
To set it apart from other operators, Wataniya Airways had offered a premium service with what it described as a Business First and Premium Economy dual-class arrangement on its Airbus short-haul fleet. It also operated from a private terminal at Kuwait International Airport rather than the standard passenger terminal.
For its rebirth, a similar network of flights is under consideration, according to the report, with plans to fly to markets, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Dubai and India, using three of four aircraft. It is understood to currently formalising discussions with lessors to source the equipment under operating leases.
The renewed enthusiasm in the relaunch programme follows the settlement of an outstanding debt with Kuwait Aviation Services Company (KASCO) for ground handling services at Kuwait International Airport. However, an ongoing legal claim with local lessor Aviation Lease and Finance Company (ALAFCO) are still under review in Kuwaiti court. Together these two debts are understood to have been in the region of KWD 7.5 million (around $25 million).
The Kuwaiti market continues to be dominated by state-controlled national carrier Kuwait Airways which following another restructuring is on a growth trajectory. Having seen its share of departure capacity from the country fall to just 22.2 per cent in 2015, it has subsequently grown to a 31.0 per cent share following year-on-year growth of 21.3 per cent in 2016. This has seen the return of non-stop flights to Geneva, Manila and Paris and the introduction of a Shannon transit for its New York services.
This year its offering is forecasted to grow a further 21.9 per cent, according to current published schedules display in OAG Schedules Analyser with significant capacity growth in many of its largest markets, including Jeddah (24.1 per cent), Dubai (31.3 per cent), London (16.4 per cent), Colombo (38.2 per cent), Delhi (26.1 per cent), Riyadh (65.3 per cent) and Amman (41.8 per cent).