Interview: Kuwait Airways CEO Rasha Al Roumi

For two decades, Kuwait Airways has bled millions of dollars as it struggled to compete with the oldest fleet in the region and political tampering. Even its own citizens gave up on the airline. But new CEO Rasha Al Roumi is already making headway in her plan to turn around one of the world’s worst-performing airlines

Flight FZ057 from Dubai lands at Kuwait International Airport and the majority of the passengers on board flow through immigration. But 20 or so — those without residency, given that Kuwait is hardly a tourist destination — are left to linger. They need visit visas but there is no one to process them and the Gulf state is yet to set up an online or pre-service facility.

A pleasant airport assistant takes each foreign passenger through the cumbersome process of buying stamps, peeling them back and plastering them onto a piece of paper that then must be filled out with the usual details.

Those unprepared with a passport copy are directed to another assistant in charge of the photocopy machine.

But it’s another half-hour before an immigration official who can approve entry to the country becomes available to process the detailed applications. At KD3 ($10.60) per visa, the process seems hardly worth the Kuwaitis’ time.

Even the lovely assistant acknowledges the inefficiency, but what she can do?

It’s a typical welcome to Kuwait and an unexaggerated reflection of the country’s entire aviation industry: old, inefficient and unappealing.

In a startling rejection, the country’s publicly-owned flag carrier, Kuwait Airways, has just 14 percent of the local market, with passengers preferring international competitors. It would be difficult to find another government airline that suffers from such a dismal level of backing from its own people.

Kuwait Airways has not received a new plane — leased or bought — since 1998 and the average age of its existing fleet is nearly 20 years.

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Posted by: Ahmad

Building a new airport and upgrading the national carrier should develop simultaneously. They are integrated projects and a new airport is step one in the development plan for Kuwait. What would be advantageous for this nation, is to have an Airport Affairs Minister embedded in Parliament to push forward projects related to the airline industry, unless it is concerted at the government levels which seems apparent to outside channels at this point. Ms. Roumi would report issues to the Airport Affairs Minister in order to expedite airport/national carrier matters. But with the sad state of affairs, on all levels, with the current airport and the current status of its national carrier, (Kuwait Airways), which has dragged on for years, it is imperative that immediate decisions be made at the government level.

Posted by: Salama

Proud to see a lady Kuwaiti caliber who is driving the national carrier in such broad strategic thinking. All the best and we are encouraging all endeavors and achievements to come.

Posted by: nishan kohli

Just curious - FZ057 would be a FlyDubai flight, and presumably lands in Sheikh Saad Airport where the immigration procedure is notoriously bad. But your article states that this flight lands in Kuwait's "only international airport"; is this referencing back to before the switch for FlyDubai?

Posted by: Samual Grey

Interesting article, but immediate short-term solutions could be implemented with the support of the government. Firstly, the present airport could start closing the retail in airport and enlarge the present Kuwait Airways check-in area with a separate immigration. Immigration in Kuwait should upgrade their visa area and implement an e-gate system for residents. Yes, she is correct, a new airport must break ground immediately in order for her to give her airline the proper presentation that other GCC carriers provide their customer base and this will take KA years. As a Westerner, I was treated with contempt as a foreign passenger, they must be inclusive not exclusive only for nationals. Ironically, it was the low-level laborers that kept this airline afloat when everyone abandoned it for the reasons she states in the article. Bottom-line, to keep the development plan in Parliament only sets it up for continuous failure, it is advantageous that key projects must go forward. Leadership

Posted by: mumeen

Excellent observation. In fact the airline is in as bad shape. Nationalization has destroyed all means of development. And, wow, see how even KAC passenger portfolio is also in for nationalization. This is a very narrow approach; not a broad thinking at all (@ Salama). Unless this company is brought under skilled Western/Eastern management, and expats are made an integral decision making part of KAC as in pre-90s, it is doomed to more failure as it has done over the past 23 years since 91.
Sigmund Freud described denial as a state of "knowing-but-not-knowing". Denial of expats is perhaps a major reason for this constant KAC failure.

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