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This New Persian Gulf Airline Plans to Start Flights in the Middle of a Pandemic

This New Persian Gulf Airline Plans to Start Flights in the Middle of a Pandemic

a white airplane on a runway

Air Arabia Abu Dhabi, a new joint-venture between Etihad Airways and the low-cost Sharjah-based airline Air Arabia is set to commence operations at 3 pm on Tuesday, July 14 with an inaugural flight from Abu Dhabi to Alexandria, Egypt the airline’s parent company announced on Monday. The first low-cost carrier to be based in Abu Dhabi had been slated to begin operations at the end of June but the airline denied rumours the project had been put indefinitely on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are delighted to announce the launch of the first flight of Air Arabia Abu Dhabi,” commented Air Arabia’s chief executive Adel Al Ali. “While the global aviation sector continues to witness unprecedented challenges due to COVID-19 pandemic, this step is a testament to the strength of the UAE aviation sector and our commitment to its long-term prospects”.

a plane on a runway
Photo Credit: Air Arabia

Air Arabia had previously dismissed a Bloomberg report that the carrier had asked the UAE government for a bailout and was postponing the Abu Dhabi venture as “baseless and speculative”. The UAE’s airlines, including Emirates and Etihad Airways, have been hit hard by the Corona crisis and were forced to ground their fleets when the government suspended all regularly scheduled flights on March 25. Operations have since been allowed to resume.

For now, Air Arabia will only serve two destinations from Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH). As well as a three-times-weekly service to Alexandria’s Borg Al Arab International Airport (HBE), the upstart carrier will also serve Sohag International Airport (HMB) once per week.

Initially only two existing Air Arabia Airbus A320 aircraft will be transferred to the new airline. Analysts believe Air Arabia Abu Dhabi is planning to build its fleet to over 70 Airbus A320 series aircraft in the coming years.

The airline did not detail what other destinations are being considered or when the network might expand. Ali described Egypt as a “key travel market” saying the first two routes reflects its “focus on supporting commercial and trade ties between both nations”. The UAE and Egypt are regional allies.

Last November, Air Arabia was forced to deny another Bloomberg report that claimed the low-cost operation would be used to takeover low-yield routes from the loss-making full-service airline Etihad Airways. In particular, routes to and from India were allegedly being eyed up and around 100 slot pairs held by Etihad and the failed Indian airline Jet Airways were set to be transferred to Air Arabia Abu Dhabi.

“Air Arabia categorically denies unfounded report issued by Bloomberg and a section of the media regarding Air Arabia Abu Dhabi plans and future operations,” the carrier said in a statement at the time. “We have not issued any official statement regarding our growth strategy nor has any official interview taken place with any news agency,” the statement continued.

Air Arabia is the only privately owned airline in the UAE and despite the COVID-19 pandemic reported a profit of AED 71 million for the first three months of 2020. Later this year, Air Arabia Abu Dhabi will face competition in the form of a joint venture between a local investment vehicle and the low-cost Eastern European airline Wizz Air.

The appropriately named Wizz Air Abu Dhabi is targeting the third quarter of 2020 to begin operations.

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