(MENAFN - Arab News) Air Arabia is rapidly increasing its services and continues to strengthen its intra-regional Arab network offering customers a wider choice for air travel. Yesterday, Air Arabia began services to Taif, which is its seventh destination in the Kingdom. Adel Abdullah Ali, board member and group chief executive officer, who is credited with driving Air Arabia's growth and making it the largest low-cost carrier (LCC) in the Middle East, spoke to K. T. Abdurabb of Arab News in Dubai on different plans and aspects of the growing airline. Ali, who has over 28 years of strategic aviation, tourism and marketing experience, is confident of the airline's growth and future.
The following are excerpts from the interview:
Air Arabia has been growing pretty dramatically. Several airlines were counting losses in 2011, but I found that Air Arabia's turnover and passenger volumes have increased. Can you elaborate the secret behind this?
The year 2011 was a challenging year for airlines across the globe, with soaring fuel prices, an economic slowdown in the West, and political upheaval in the Middle East. While these challenging market conditions have had an impact on the aviation sector, Air Arabia's operations continues to be resilient, driven by our business model and appealing product offering. In just eight years of operations, Air Arabia has created one of the region's success stories. As we continue to be on a growth trajectory, we look at the needs of our customers and expand our reach across the region and beyond accordingly. Over the past few years, we have diversified our business and today, the airline holds a portfolio of successful businesses and projects, offering travel and tourism services across the globe.
How do you consider the Saudi market?
Air Arabia recognizes the immense potential that the Saudi Arabian aviation sector offers. We currently offer 66 nonstop flights per week to Saudi Arabia from our hubs in Sharjah and Alexandria in Egypt, serving seven destinations in Saudi Arabia. We believe that Saudi Arabia has gone a long way in developing its commercial aviation and as we continue to strengthen our presence in the Kingdom, we will look to add additional destinations in this exciting market. Currently, Air Arabia operates nonstop flights to Madinah, Taif, Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam, Qassim and Yanbu in the Kingdom.
What was your annual turnover and net profit in 2011? What is your expectation in 2012? How was the first quarter of 2012?
Despite recent challenging market conditions, Air Arabia continued to outperform the market. In 2011, Air Arabia's annual turnover was a record AED 2.4 billion, and a net profit of AED 274 million. Passenger traffic has seen a 6 percent rise and seat factor stood at 82 percent for the full year.
We have begun this year much as we ended the last. Air Arabia's net profit for the first quarter of 2012 stood at AED 49.2 million, an increase of 11 percent compared to AED 44.2 million in the corresponding period in 2011. As these results make clear, Air Arabia remains on a path of steady upward growth.
So, what are your plans?
2012 will be a year of continued expansion as we are committed to provide our customers with a growing range of destinations and value-for-money fares. This is in line with the global strategy for the LCC's success, which we have adapted to the needs of our customers here in the MENA region. Our unique value driven product will reach more and more customers across the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Europe.
Tell us something about your fleet expansion. Have you ordered more aircraft?
Air Arabia operates one of the youngest fleet in the region, with 30 new Airbus A320 aircraft currently in service. As of today, we have taken delivery of eight out of 44 A320 aircraft that we ordered from Airbus back in 2007. The delivery of the 44 new aircraft will be completed by 2016, and will more than double the size of Air Arabia's fleet. This is in line with our aim to increase the total operating fleet to more than 50 aircraft.
What kind of competition are you facing from other airlines?
Air Arabia welcomes fair competition as it is vital for the health of the sector and leads to better value for passengers. As the LCC model pioneered by Air Arabia has grown in popularity, more and more participants have entered the market. We follow a customer-centric approach whereby reliability and value-for-money are paramount. Today, we serve over 73 routes across the wider Arab region, a feat that no other LCC in the region can match.