Ras Al Khaimah’s only airline has suspended all of its flights for the second time in five years – but insists it will fly again.
RAK Airways, which was launched in 2006, stopped operations in 2009 amid a global downturn but resumed service a year later. Starting yesterday, it again suspended all operations until further notice.
“The decision for suspending operations was taken following increased pressures on the carrier’s performance due to continuous market conditions, increased operating costs, and the impact of the regional political instability on the overall aviation industry,” said the RAK Airways board of directors.
With RAK Airways grounded, the Ras Al Khaimah International Airport wore a deserted look yesterday, apart from two Russian passengers who had not flown with RAK Airways and had been stuck at the airport since Tuesday because of visa issues.
Aside from RAK Airways, the airport serves charter flights.
Offices behind the check-in counter were also empty yesterday.
Seven officers could be seen inside the immigration office where the arrivals screen was blank.
They had received no official notice from the Government about any closure. “We cannot say,” said one officer who declined to be named because he was not authorised to speak.
The StrategicAero Research.com chief analyst Saj Ahmad put a lack of clear strategy as the reason behind the airline’s shutdown.
“When it restarted operations in 2010 after its last suspension, the airline stated that it was not going to be a full or low-cost airline – that indicated immediately that its strategy was in jeopardy,” he said.
“You can’t be a halfway house when down the road in Sharjah you have Air Arabia, Dubai has Emirates and flydubai, and Abu Dhabi has Etihad – four of the world’s biggest and fastest growing airlines.”
The decision to fly to Abu Dhabi was also misplaced, Mr Ahmad said.
“The UAE simply doesn’t have the land mass that warrants intra-emirate flights when road options are far quicker.”
In December 2012, the airline increased its frequency to daily to the capital.
To tap a bigger customer base, it also offered a free shuttle service to most of the neighbouring emirates as well as Dibba and Khor Fakkan.
It carried 300,000 passengers in 2012, and improved the numbers by 40 per cent in 2013, said Elizabeth Percy, the corporate communications director for RAK Department of Civil Aviation, RAK Airport and RAK Airways.
“RAK Airways’ load factor was steady across its destination route map,” Ms Percy said.
Before the carrier stopped its operations, it flew to Doha, Peshawar, Islamabad, Lahore, Jeddah, Riyadh, Calicut and Kathmandu.
Passengers were informed of the suspension, and according to passengers’ requests, a RAK Airways team was working on rebooking them or refunding their fares.
The airline’s fleet included two leased Airbus 320 aircraft.
The board of directors had compensated the airline’s staff as per the UAE Labour Law, Ms Percy said.
“It has only suspended operations to take the time to study the opportunities at hand in terms of investors and flying again,” she said.
It was relaunched in October 2010 with flights serving Calicut and Jeddah. The fares then were as low as Dh10 and came with 30 kilograms of free baggage allowance, complimentary hot meals and free shuttle service from the emirates, except from Al Ain and Abu Dhabi, according to media reports.
In December, before it suspended the operations, one could fly to Riyadh for Dh310 and for Dh360 to Islamabad one way, inclusive of taxes.
This year through August, travellers passing through Ras Al Khaimah International Airport rose 69 per cent. The growth was driven mainly by the addition of new routes from RAK Airways, said Mohammed Qazi, the airport’s commercial and finance director.
New destinations, however, kept coming online and then falling off the radar. In 2010, RAK Airways started flying to Dhaka and Chittagong in Bangladesh, and Cairo and Amman were added in August. But the carrier was no longer servicing these sectors when it closed yesterday.
Mr Ahmad said he believed the airline’s days were numbered, even if it did manage to reopen.
“[The] writing was on the wall when it collapsed the first time in 2009,” he said. “I for one don’t see it being revived for a third time – and if it does re-emerge, I’d question its longevity.”