(MENAFN - Arab News) FlyDubai and Qatar Airways have been given the green light by Saudi authorities to operate flights from Al-Ahsa Airport in the Eastern Province.
"On the basis of an approval given by Prince Fahd bin Abdullah, president of General Authority of Civil Aviation, the two airlines will operate flights to and from Al-Ahsa," said Khaled Al-Khaibary, a spokesman for the authority
Al-Khaibary said FlyDubai would start operation from the airport on Feb. 6 with two weekly flights on Thursdays and Saturdays.
He said the number of international passengers from domestic airports reached 1.6 million by the end of 2013
The GACA spokesman's comments came as Akbar Al-Baker, CEO of Qatar Airways, said the carrier reached agreement with Saudi authorities on solving problems that blocked its entry into Saudi Arabia's domestic market, and plans to start operating there by the end of the third quarter
"We have already now appointed a new CEO for the Saudi operations, and we are planning to launch the Saudi operations anytime between the middle to the third quarter of this year," Al-Baker told Reuters
Saudi Arabia started opening up its aviation market in 2012 by awarding additional carrier licenses.
Reuters said Saudi Arabia's price caps for domestic flights have hurt airlines' profit margins, while fuel subsidies have helped Saudi Arabian Airlines compete against rivals
Baker, speaking on the sidelines of the Bahrain International Airshow, said those issues had now been resolved, though he did not give details
"There is a compromise that has been accepted by the authorities regarding the price cap and the fuel price.
Qatar Airways has previously said its Saudi domestic carrier will be called Al-Maha Airways and will start with main cities such as Riyadh and Jeddah, before moving to second-tier cities
Airlines in the Gulf have also been exploring ways to expand in India's market. Last November India's Jet Airways closed a deal to sell a 24 percent stake to Abu Dhabi's Etihad
Al-Baker said Qatar Airways was discussing the possibility of sharing flights with two Indian airlines
"We are talking to IndiGo and SpiceJet to do codeshare agreements," Al-Baker said
"We were with Air India and we had to stop it half-way, because they are showing interest to join the Star Alliance. So they stopped talking to us, maybe because of pressure from Star Alliance not to talk to anybody else.
Qatar Airways is a major operator of Boeing Dreamliners, and said last year it had to forego 200 million in lost profit when regulators asked it to ground its 787s to check for technical problems. It said it received compensation from Boeing for the losses
On Wednesday, a Japan Airlines 9201.T Dreamliner was grounded at Tokyo's Narita International Airport as regulators demanded checks to see if the aircraft was fit to fly, a day after white smoke vented from the plane and a battery cell showed signs of melting
Baker said he was not concerned by the incident: "As a matter of fact the problem that happened in Japan wasn't out of context. This kind of problem is expected in a new program
"The battery performed exactly as it was designed to - there was a defective single cell from the eight cells the battery has in a Dreamliner, and the damage was contained in that single cell. And the containment system performed exactly as it was designed to.
He added, "I don't think that there is anything that would (make) Qatar Airways reconsider that airplane.