Air Arabia CEO Adel Ali talks to ATN's Emma Procter about the low-cost carrier's newest venture - Nepal-based carrier FlyYeti.com.
When you first meet Air Arabia chief executive Adel Ali it is difficult not to be impressed by his calm and confident manner.
The self-assurance stems partly from his lengthy aviation experience - he previously served as vice-president of commercial and customer service for Gulf Air, where he played a central role in the airline's recovery.
He also held senior management positions with British Airways, including general manager Middle East and Africa.
But it's as the founder and CEO of Sharjah-based Air Arabia that Ali has the most to feel content about. The Middle East's first budget airline is an acknowledged industry success story and with the launch of its latest venture - FlyYeti.com - the future is looking even brighter.
Based in Kathmandu, FlyYeti.com is the result of a partnership between Air Arabia and Yeti Airlines, one of the leading domestic carriers in Nepal.
As the major shareholder, Air Arabia is applying its proven low-cost business model to run FlyYeti.com and the carrier has already started operating services from Kathmandu to Sharjah, Kuala Lumpur and Abu Dhabi.
"This newest hub will give air travellers who use Air Arabia access to new destinations in India and wider South Asia, as well as the Far East and Central Asia," says Ali, who chatted to ATN shortly after FlyYeti's inaugural flight from Kathmandu to Sharjah on January 20.
"It will offer our existing passengers the chance to reach these new destinations safe in the knowledge they will receive the same high standard of service they have come to expect from Air Arabia itself."
He adds that FlyYeti will "basically give customers in the Gulf states and wider Middle East an exceptional and inexpensive way to connect to these destinations".
With flights to two cities up and running, the carrier is now looking to destinations in India, Asia and the Middle East, including Doha.
The FlyYeti.com website already reveals that services to Bangkok, Delhi, Hong Kong and Doha are going to be launched soon.
The opportunities for travel agents to harness these new services are therefore ripe, yet historically they have been slow to embrace the low-cost carrier (LCC) concept.
Many simply do not understand the concept and some are still struggling to work out how to charge a service fee for these bookings, while in their defence, most of the region's no-frills carriers are not GDS-enable and so booking them takes effort.
But Ali is keen to stress that agents are key to FlyYeti's distribution strategy: "We have the new call centres operating for FlyYeti and obviously we have the website [to help drive sales] - but we will be working with agents on the ground in the same way we always have at Air Arabia," he confirms.
Ali notes that it is too early to predict how FlyYeti passengers will choose to book their tickets but says travel agents have "nothing to fear".
As for source markets, Ali expects sales to be driven by the large population of Nepalese ex-pats living in the MENA region, South Asia and East Asia, because it will give them access to the vast network of FlyYeti and Air Arabia.
Despite Air Arabia's strong track record, Ali concedes that there are always risks when starting up a new airline, but he reveals that the board did not spend too much time deliberating over whether or not to take the plunge with this latest venture.
"I don't think there's really a right or wrong time to go ahead with this kind of thing. We basically felt we were operationally ready and the Nepalese market has great potential," he says.
"Commercially, the Arab trade is very interested in the country, so it is a just a great opportunity that we want to be part of."
And, at the end of the day, now more than ever before, people want to travel.
He notes that the political situation in Nepal is "reasonably calm" and argues that "there is definitely room for another low-cost carrier".
"Our industry is doing very well and over the next few years, the Middle East as a region is going to boom. For now, I don't see any pitfalls for us apart from occasional bouts of instability - but that's life," he adds.
According to Ali, the secret of Air Arabia's success is the simplicity of its message and its overall transparency policy.
"Air Arabia has done so well in the past because unlike many companies - and I'm not just referring to airlines now - we deliver on our promises. There is so much PR activity that goes on and then absolutely nothing happens," he says.
"When we say we are going to do something, we do it. Our customers have always responded to that - they can relax because they know where they stand."
Ali was also keen to reinforce the point that a different name - FlyYeti - did not translate to fluctuations in customer service levels.
"I mean in reality, FlyYeti is Air Arabia, just under another name. Air Arabia is the majority shareholder - so we have management control of the company. People who fly with Air Arabia should have the same confidence when they fly with FlyYeti."
But Ali's ambition doesn't just stop with two carriers and two hubs; just prior to the FlyYeti launch, Air Arabia revealed plans to establish a second hub in the Moroccan city of Rabat.
The venture will see Air Arabia assume management control of another new budget airline - private Moroccan carrier Regional Air Lines - that will target the European, North African and Middle East markets.
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