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With growing demand for budget travel, LogisticsMiddleEast.com looks at some of the leading low-cost airlines that are currently serving the Middle East and surrounding areas, in no particular order. The list includes market-leaders such as Air Arabia, flydubai, Jazeera Airways, Sama, Nas Air, Bahrain Air and Airblue.
Air Arabia is marketed as the Middle East and North Africa's leading low-cost carrier, with a total fleet of 20 new Airbus A320 aircraft, serving 59 destinations from two hubs in the UAE and Morocco.
Earlier this year, the airline published its financial results for the nine months ending 30th September 2009, demonstrating the long-term sustainability of its business model and appeal of its low-cost services at a time when the global aviation sector is witnessing unprecedented financial challenges.
Air Arabia's net profit for the first nine months of this year stood at Dhs337m, an increase of 6% compared to Dhs318m for the same period in 2008, excluding exceptional items. During the first nine months of 2009, the company registered a turnover of Dhs1.469bn, 2% lower than Dhs1.495bn recorded during the same period last year.
The airline served more than 2.96 million passengers during the first nine months of 2009, an increase of 14% compared to 2.6 million passengers during the same period last year. Air Arabia's average seat load factor - or passengers carried as a percentage of available seats - for the first nine months of 2009 stood at a strong 79%.
Despite the market challenges in 2009, this year has also seen several accolades for the airline, including "Best Low-Cost Airline in the Middle East" for the third consecutive year at the 2009 World Airline Awards, and "Low-Cost Carrier of the Year" by both the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA) at the Aviation Outlook Asia 2009 congress in Beijing and at the Doha Aviation Summit 2009. More recently, Air Arabia's Adel Ali was selected as "CEO of the Year" by Aviation Business magazine, the leading industry title in the Middle East.
Flydubai celebrated its tenth route in just over six months this month when flight FZ015 touched down in Bahrain, Flydubai's second GCC destination.
The inaugural flight comes at a time of intense activity for Dubai's first low cost airline; it is less than a week since Flydubai took delivery of its sixth aircraft and less than a month after the Dubai Airshow, where financing, logistics and maintenance deals worth nearly $200m were announced.
Flydubai's twice daily flights to Bahrain (FZ015 and FZ021) leave Dubai International Airport Terminal 2 at 0715hrs and 2005hrs, and arrive at 0730hrs and 2020hrs local time respectively. The return flights FZ016 and FZ022 leave Bahrain at 0815hrs and 2105hrs arriving in Dubai at 1025hrs and 2315hrs local time respectively.
The other nine operational routes in Flydubai's growing network are: Beirut-Lebanon, Amman-Jordan, Damascus and Aleppo-Syria, Alexandria-Egypt, Djibouti-Africa, Doha-Qatar, Khartoum-Sudan, Baku-Azerbaijan and flights to Flydubai's newest destination, Kathmandu-Nepal, will start from December 15th.
The Flydubai model is simple, with customers paying only for the services they want to receive. Passengers have the option to purchase checked-in baggage in advance, weighing up to 32 kg, subject to availability. Checked baggage at the airport is also strictly subject to availability and passengers are advised to book online early to secure the space, as only pre-purchased baggage can be guaranteed.
Flydubai operates from a modernised and enhanced Terminal 2 on the north side of Dubai International Airport.
Jazeera Airways currently operates a fleet of 10 new Airbus A320s. Each aircraft is fitted with the airline's signature leather seating, while the Jazeera Business Class cabin offers business travelers special check-in counters, 40 kilograms baggage allowance, access to airport lounges and exclusive in-flight service and entertainment.
However, can the airline - which flies to destinations in the Middle East, North Africa and Asia - really be considered a low cost carrier? Most would probably think so, although just two months into his role as CEO, Stefan Pichler stated that he's working to develop the brand into becoming the leading network carrier in the Middle East.
Speaking to ASC.com, Pichler revealed that the low-cost model associated with the Kuwaiti airline was nothing more than a label, and that the focus was now on becoming a key player in the short-haul market. “The idea of a low-cost carrier is just a label,” Pichler said. “There are boxes in the industry - low-cost and legacy – and now it is difficult to define the two, because everybody tries to have the lowest cost and everybody tries to have the highest revenue. My primary strategy, which is fully endorsed by the shareholders, is to develop Jazeera into the leading regional network airline, and it is also about how you position your brand and upgrade your image.”
The CEO, who joined Jazeera on June 21, was quick to add that the airline was not being repositioned, but had recognised a gap in the short-haul market. “We are embarking on a journey now that says, of course we want to keep the lowest costs possible, but our vision is to go beyond this. You have Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways all focusing on long-haul, but in short-haul we have weaker competitors, so it makes sense for us to focus on this market.”
To date, the airline has flown over 4 million passengers since commencing operations in October 2005.
Founded by Investment Enterprises Ltd in 2005, Sama's first flight departed from King Fahad International Airport in Dammam to King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah on 18th March 2007. Since this time, the airline has continued to develop its route network, with 176 weekly flights currently serving 16 destinations within Saudi Arabia and nearby countries, including Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the UAE.
The airline flies six Boeing 737-300 aircraft in total, which are maintained to international standards by Lufthansa Technik, in addition to Sama's own trained staff and other providers. For certain routes within the Kingdom, a Jetstream 41 is also used.
In mid-January 2009, Sama implemented a major restructuring of its network operations, designed to improve its on-time performance. Since the first day of that schedule change, the airline has reported that 85% to 90% of its flights have departed within 15 minutes of schedule, day in and day out.
Sama has more than 580 employees, with more than 50% of them being Saudi's.
Following its launch on 17th February 2007, Nas Air has developed its share of the low-cost travel market with 350 flights a week, currently serving 13 destinations within Saudi Arabia and 11 international destinations, including Beirut, Alexandria, Amman, Sharjah, Abu Dhabi, Damascus, Latakia, Kuwait, Sharm ElSheikh, Assiut and Sana'a.
The airline claims to have the youngest fleet in Saudi Arabia, comprising 8 Airbus A320s (capacity for 180 passengers) and 6 Embraer’s E190/195 aircraft (capacity for 110 passengers).
Owned by National Air Services (NAS), Nasair transported more than 2.5 million passengers in 2007 and 2008, with a forecast for another 1.5 Million in 2009.
Bahrain Air, the first privately owned National Carrier of Bahrain with affordable fares in both Premium and Economy classes, made a claim earlier this year that it was the most punctual airline, with 97% of its operations on time performance (OTP) for the month of June 2009.
The carrier was incorporated on 2nd July 2007 and operates 91 flights a week to 21 destinations in the GCC, Levant, Africa, Iran and the Indian subcontinent, operating on a modern fleet of eight Airbus A320 and A319 aircraft.
Air Asia X
AirAsia X launched in 2007 with four weekly flights between Kuala Lumpur and the Gold Coast in Australia. The airline has since extended its network to cover Perth and Melbourne in Australia, Tianjin (Beijing) and Hangzhou (Shanghai) in China, Taipei in Taiwan, and London, UK.
Earlier this year, AirAsia also announced its new route between Kuala Lumpur and Abu Dhabi, with the inaugural flight touching down in Abu Dhabi on 23rd November 2009 and depart for the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur again on the same day.
The new route is being served with an Airbus A340-300 configured for 256 seats in economy cabin and 30 Premium seats on Mondays, Tuesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. It is the airline's eighth long haul destination - although its first in the Middle East.
Onur Air is a low cost carrier (LCC) based in Istanbul, Turkey. With headquarters in the popular Atatürk International Airport (IST), the airline operates flights between Turkey and various western Europe countries, including Austria, France, Germany, Spain, Switzerland and the UK. It also serves Dubai.
It also provides a range of no-frills domestic services between Istanbul and 12 other Turkish cities, providing strong competition to Turkish Airlines. Its domestic routes are based on a flat-fare structure and cover cities such as Bodrum-Milas, Dalaman, Konya, Mardin and Trabzon.
Onur Air began operations in May 1992 with two leased Airbus A320 aircraft. The numbers have increased rapidly over the past 15 years, although the airline remains loyal to Airbus, with the fleet now including the A300, A320 and A321, in addition to the McDonnell Douglas MD80/90 aircraft.
In total, the airline carries approximately 1.4 million passengers a year.
Ease On Air
Ease On Air marks Iran's entry into the budget travel market. Established by a group of aviation executives, the airline is 100% privately owned and has received its initial permits from the authorities to begin operations later this year.
Currently in the preparation stage, the airline will initially operate two Boeing 737 aircraft, although this will be increased to five aircraft within the first year of business and 14 aircraft by the fifth year of business.
The vast majority of flights - reportedly 90% - will be domestics, while the remaining amount will be regional.
Airblue is Pakistan's fastest growing private airline, based in Karachi's popular Jinnah International Airport.
Starting in 2004, the carrier's fleet of next-generation Airbus A320 and A321 aircraft began offering world-class travel to many cities within Pakistan.
Airblue now offers flights to five international destinations: UAE airports Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi, as well as Muscat, Oman and Manchester, UK.
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