Group CEO says low-cost carrier plans “four to five” destinations in China, hopes to sign off new aircraft order in 2014
Air Arabia, the Sharjah-based low-cost carrier with further bases in Egypt and Morocco, is hoping to add two additional hubs over the next five years.
Adel Ali, the airline’s group chief executive, told Arabian Business that Air Arabia was considering a series of options, but had not yet made a final decision as to where those additional hubs might be located. In 2010, the airline signed a joint venture deal to launch a base in Jordan, but those plans never materialised.
“There were quite a lot of plans and Jordan was one of them,” Ali said. “We’re seeing the bottom of the economic crisis and regional political stability coming back slowly, and once those two issues are resolved, we’ll need to relook at our plans.
“Maybe Jordan, maybe somewhere else – it depends on how the whole map pans out and who will be more open, and where we see the benefits to our business.”
The chief executive did not rule out the possibility of setting up a new hub in Istanbul, which is investing heavily in a new airport that is projected to open in 2017.
“It [Turkey] has all the criteria; 70 million people, the economy is going from strength to strength, inbound tourism is huge and the industrial side is positive,” Ali said.
“I think if we found the right partner - because everywhere you go you can only get into those markets with a maximum of 49 percent – and if the right opportunity came in at the right place, we would look at it.
“Anything that comes in with that sort of strong criteria, we would be daft not to look at it and evaluate it.”
The airline is also interested in Saudi Arabia, which announced last year that it would open up its domestic market to foreign carriers. So far, only Qatar Airways has won a licence in the kingdom, and it is not yet clear when the airline will start operating.
“We still, until today, we’re not clear about the total framework of that proposition,” Ali said. “Is it domestic? Is it international? Can you go to any airport in Saudi? It’s for the same reason that we haven’t gone into India.
“We would love to have a hub in Saudi Arabia because it’s the perfect scenario. But I think we need to wait and see; there’s a lot of change happening in the aviation industry there. We just need to make sure we have clarity of why we’re there and what it means.”
The chief executive added that the airline, which celebrates its ten-year anniversary on Monday, was hoping to launch its first flights to China in 2014, with around “four or five” cities on its target list.
The last of the carrier’s 44-strong order for Airbus A320 aircraft will be delivered in 2016, and Ali said that he was hoping to finalise a new order for either A320neo, Boeing 737-MAX or Bombardier C-Series aircraft at some point in 2014.