Best of 2012: Air Arabia interview

New planes, new routes and new hubs are all on the agenda for the Middle East’s first listed airline, Air Arabia

Despite lacking the petrodollars enjoyed by the government-backed airlines that dominate Gulf aviation, budget carrier Air Arabia continues on a streak of uninterrupted profitability that began shortly after it was founded in 2003.

The Sharjah-based airline, which competes with state-owned flydubai and Kuwait’s Jazeera Airways, has extended this rally into 2012, posting another two profitable quarters.

In its recent second-quarter financial results, Air Arabia recorded a 31 percent rise in net profit to AED65m ($17.7m), higher than Reuters analysts’ estimates. Revenue increased to AED729.6m, while passenger numbers were up fifteen percent to 1.5 million and average seat load factor up three percent to an impressive 85 percent.

As of July, nearly half a million people now fly with the region’s first low-cost-carrier every month.

Adel Ali, the Bahraini-born CEO of the airline, is positive Air Arabia will continue its good form through to the third quarter, although he is reluctant to provide a full-year picture, as the firm is publicly listed.

“It’s difficult to predict for the rest of the year, but certainly for Q3... the booking is looking very promising, despite some of the political instability in part of the area that we operate,” he says, in reference to the Arab Spring protests that have rocked countries including Egypt, Syria and Yemen over the past eighteen months, all of which are served by Air Arabia.

“Even Ramadan normally is a quieter month, but this year we’ve seen reasonable demand compared to the previous years,” Ali says.

While some of Air Arabia’s routes in the Arab world have been marred by unrest, the farther flung destinations in the carrier’s current network of 65 destinations appear to be picking up some of the slack.

In October 2011, the airline launched a three-times-a-week service to Russian capital Moscow and a twice-weekly service to Ekaterinburg, in the same country.

Such has been the popularity of the former route, Air Arabia three months later announced it would be upping the Moscow service to five-times-a-week. Other destinations in that region served by Air Arabia include Almaty in Kazakhstan and Kiev in Ukraine, which Ali says have both “been doing very well”.

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