(MENAFN - Arab News) Bahrain Air, the private national carrier of the neighboring kingdom, recently cemented its position in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province by designating Dammam as its second hub. From the massive King Fahd International Airport, the airline has begun operating direct flights to Khartoum and Beirut.
"We see this as a very positive development for our airline," said Managing Director Capt. Ibrahim Al-Hamer during an exclusive interview with Siraj Wahab of Arab News.
"Creating a second hub here in Dammam and operating direct flights to Sudan and Lebanon ... This is like a dream come true for us and we would like to thank Prince Fahd Al-Abdullah, president of General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA), for giving us these exclusive traffic rights," he said.
Following are excerpts from the interview:
Can you explain to us the Bahrain Air model? Some say it is a low-cost airline while others describe it as a hybrid model?
We call ourselves as an affordable airline. Which essentially means we have positioned ourselves in the middle. We are neither low-cost nor a full-fledged airline. Yes, we are providing passengers with a seat, but in addition we are providing them a number of services that only full-fledged airlines provide. For instance, we provide baggage allowance, free meal, onboard entertainment facilities, etc., etc. And our fares are on an average 30 percent less than the regular prices.
How many destinations is the airline flying to?
We operate to nearly 20 destinations, with an average frequency of 112 flights a week. We are playing a major role in linking Bahrain, which is the financial center of the Middle East, to major cities in the Gulf, the Levant, Africa and the Indian subcontinent, with fast and economical point-to-point services, for both the business community and the traveling public. We are committed to offering our customers the highest level of comfort, service and reliability at the most affordable prices. Our vision has always been to position ourselves as the airline of choice in the region offering customers a safe and comfortable flying experience at excellent value for money.
What is the reasoning behind creating Dammam as the second hub?
The Eastern Province and Bahrain are very close to each other. There is great proximity. Eventually, in the airline industry, Bahrain airport and Dammam airport will be considered as one. In terms of population, the Eastern Province is twice the size of Bahrain. We have one million people whereas the Eastern province has a population of 2 million. The Eastern Province is growing on all fronts. The industry is expanding here. Big projects are coming up or are in various stages of execution and implementation. This is a very advanced economy. We see a great potential for the airline industry. That is why we are here. Tapping into the Eastern Province market is big news for us. We are highly thankful to and appreciative of the support extended to us by Prince Fahd Al-Abdullah, president of General Authority of Civil Aviation, and all those who are working with him, for giving us these exclusive traffic rights. This is like a dream come true for Bahrain Air. We are very positive. Insha'Allah, it will be very rewarding.
You are also said to be in the process of hiring more people to run Saudi operations. Is that correct?
Yes, that is true. We will hire more and more people, including Saudis in the months and years to come, to manage our operations as we expand our services through the Dammam hub. Right now, our goal is to cement and solidify our presence here in the next six months or so.
What were the driving forces behind launching direct flights from Dammam to Beirut and Khartoum?
There is a large presence of Sudanese and Lebanese communities in the Eastern Province. They needed direct flights, convenient flights, and affordable flights, from Dammam to their home countries. We are now operating three flights a week to Khartoum on Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday departing from Dammam. We are operating four flights a week to Beirut on Saturday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday departing from Dammam. We are catering to these two major expatriate communities. They seem very happy with our decision. We already have good connections to destinations in India; They take good care of the huge Indian expatriate community, especially from Kerala, based in the Eastern Province.
What is the added advantage of Dammam being the second hub for Bahrain Air?
It gives Bahrain Air passengers better convenience flying out from KFIA and eliminates delays on the Saudi-Bahrain Causeway. As I said, eventually the two airports will be considered as one. So supposing if a passenger has bought a ticket to fly out of KFIA and, for some reason, he wants to fly out of Bahrain, then the same ticket will be valid. The passenger will not have to change it. Let me also state here that Bahrain Air operates with its modern Aircraft A320/A319. And, yes, we do provide lounge facilities for premium business class passengers.
The airline's new strategy is paying off considering the recently released figures, isn't it?
Yes, the preliminary traffic results for the second quarter 2012 that were announced recently revealed that Bahrain Air had a 57 percent increase in passenger numbers compared to the same period in 2011. The average load factor for the second quarter of 2012 stood at 78 percent compared with 59 percent a year earlier. The average aircraft utilization has also dramatically improved by 45 percent to stand at 13.1 hours per day. All this is good news.