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Mon 11 May 2015 11:10 AM

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Persuading gov'ts to open their airspace is our biggest challenge, says flydubai CEO

Ghaith Al Ghaith cites India as a clear example of where access restrictions are holding back growth

Persuading gov'ts to open their airspace is our biggest challenge, says flydubai CEO
Ghaith Al Ghaith, CEO flyDubai.

The chief executive of flydubai has called for more air traffic rights in India, citing it as one of the biggest examples where access issues are the main obstacle to its expansion from its base in Dubai.

In an interview with Arabian Business, Ghaith Al Ghaith said: “Our main challenge, in terms of expansion outside the Gulf, is persuading governments to open up their countries [to foreign airlines].

“India, for example, is a potentially huge market in this part of the world but it only represents two percent of flydubai’s capacity. Pakistan is not open either, nor is Iran.”

Asked if political or security concerns are preventing such countries from entering into new aviation agreements, Al Ghaith said: “Not necessarily. I think each country has its own issues and complexities that they have to manage.

“At the end of the day, it is their decision whether they allow you to fly there or not, it’s not ours. I understand that, but I hope they will become more open in time.”

India has sought to restrict Gulf flights to the subcontinent in the past to help its cash-strapped national carrier Air India. Official statistics published in 2013 found that Emirates Airline flew more passengers in and out of India than Air India.

However, it was reported at the end of 2012 that India was planning to negotiate with Dubai and Abu Dhabi to open up rights for more flights into the UAE. The current gridlock is thought to be the result of regulatory bottlenecks in the Indian aviation sector – such as bilateral air agreements between India and other countries – which are adding layers of bureaucracy to the situation, according to a report by the National Council of Applied Economic Research, commissioned by Emirates Airline, in 2012.

Sharjah-based carrier Air Arabia is another Gulf airline that has been lobbying for more traffic rights in India in recent years.

flydubai added 23 new destinations last year and plans to continue opening up new routes within its five-and-a-half-hour reach and increase capacity by launching new services to existing destinations, Al Ghaith said.

He predicted huge opportunities with the rise of the same-day, intra-Gulf traveller: “businessmen and retail tourists who travel to Dubai from places like Kuwait or Bahrain to go shopping or have meetings and fly home again that evening.”

He said: “I believe these are changing habits, people do these sorts of trips more often than they used to. Go to Dubai Mall and walk around and you can see people pulling suitcases along and they are probably just here for the day.

“It’s almost like [the GCC] is growing as a region and becoming more like Europe, where it is common for people to travel from, say London to Paris, for the day, or America, where people frequently commute to work by air.

“Such habits are becoming common here, which is a reflection of the region working more and more as one country.”

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