The yet to be launched low-cost airline Air Arabia Abu Dhabi has been named a ‘national carrier’ of the United Arab Emirates in a move that the country says reflects the “importance the government attaches to the aviation sector.” In October, government-owned Etihad Airways and the privately-owned Sharjah-based low-cost carrier Air Arabia announced a tie-up to create the new subsidiary although few details on the project have been released to date.
Air Arabia Abu Dhabi will become the first budget carrier based in the UAE’s capital but an official launch date and initial route network have not yet been announced. The fledgeling carrier will face competition from European discounter Wizz Air which revealed its intention to launch an Abu Dhabi-based subsidiary in December in partnership with Abu Dhabi Development Holding Company.
“The government gives the aviation sector all forms of support in line with the comprehensive development plans occurring in the country,” a statement from the UAE’s official news agency said of the decision to award Air Arabia Abu Dhabi the status of national carrier.
Since launching in 2003, Etihad Airways has been considered the national airline of the UAE, while Emirates airline is known as the national airline of Dubai – one of seven semi-autonomous emirates that make up the UAE.
“The UAE government invested considerable efforts to improve this sector (the aviation sector) and support all the businesses working in it,” the statement continued. The WAM news agency said the arrival of Air Arabia Abu Dhabi would allow the country’s aviation sector to “keep pace with future development plans and directions.”
Air Arabia has denied rumours that the new operation will be used to take over unprofitable or low-yield routes currently operated by Etihad Airways and said it was “disappointed” by “distorted statements” reported by Bloomberg in November.
“We will announce growth plans as such when they are finalised and through our official channels,” a spokesperson for Air Arabia said at the time – no official statement has yet been released about the airline’s growth strategy or route network.
However, an initial schedule filing for the carrier suggested that flights would start from the 29th March with an initial route network of 11 destinations. Five of those routes are to destinations that Etihad has served in the past but had discontinued flights to. The remaining six destinations would be new routes from Abu Dhabi and include Tbilisi, Kyiv and Faisalabad.
All 11 routes would be operated by Airbus A320 aircraft but Etihad has since removed those flight listings without providing further information.