Air Arabia backed Saudi Arabia’s decision to keep its domestic airspace closed to outside operators, the CEO of the region’s largest budget carrier said, following calls for the airspace to be opened to regional carriers.
Nasser Ibrahim Al Tuwaim, secretary of Saudi Arabia’s executive council, was reported as saying Saudi Arabian Airline’s monopoly on domestic air travel should end in a bid to spur competition in the sector.
“Saudi Arabia is a vast country. Saudi alone will not be able to meet its growing passenger requirements. So we demand airline companies in the Gulf be allowed to operate domestic flights,” Al Tuwaim said.
However, Adel Ali, CEO of Air Arabia, said that he didn’t see why Saudi Arabia should be picked up on this, as no other region in the world allowed international operators access to its domestic travel market.
“The freedom of the sky, from a domestic point of view, no carrier allows it. The American’s don’t, the British don’t, the EU don’t…so I don’t see why Saudi should be picked up on this,” he told Arabian Business during an aviation conference in Dubai.
At present, only the nationalised carrier, Saudi Arabian Airlines and the privately owned Nasair are the only two airlines allowed to operate domestic flights in the country, serving a population of approximately 30 million.
“I think it’s very difficult for us to sit here and judge how Saudi should run their domestic affairs,” Ali said. “
“We have to recognise that the Saudi government has recognised that there isn’t another method of convenient domestic transportation, so they’ve decided as a policy, that pricing has to be reasonable for people to fly. When you do that, you’re basically producing something for the community,” Ali added.
Simon Stewart, chief executive officer of Nasair, agreed with the sentiment, telling Arabian Business that while he welcomed increased competition, there was a lot of variability and restrictions for landing rights in various countries.
“Competition is always good and competition can stimulate demand, but at this point, the government is taking an approach to nurture the aviation infrastructure in Saudi,” he said.
Ali added that he thought that internationally, Saudi Arabia was doing things the right way in order to increase air traffic.
“I have met the authorities over there and they’re very logical about it, what they say is, ‘we’re renovating, we’re improving the product of the airport, and as we do this, we’ll open [up] more’, so I’m happy with what I’ve seen in Saudi so far,” he said.
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