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Solid bookings allow Flydubai to cut budget fares by half

Three weeks after its launch, the budget airline flydubai is cutting its fares in half after it says bookings have been better than expected.

Three weeks after its launch, the budget airline flydubai is cutting its fares in half. Flydubai, wholly owned by the Dubai Government as a low-cost partner to Emirates Airline, said the discount prices for selected flights on its four main routes over the next three months come amid better than expected bookings since it began operations on June 1.

The standard cheapest one-way tickets are Dh250 to Beirut or Amman, Dh300 to Damascus and Dh350 to Alexandria. Those fares will be cut in half, starting tomorrow. The airline launched into a global aviation market that was reeling from a slump in the air cargo sector and fewer passengers amid the economic crisis. The no-frills airline also announced a fifth destination, Aleppo, on Thursday, but flights to the northern Syrian city will not be subject to the discount.

Only flights to Beirut, Alexandria, Amman and Damascus will be offered at half-price when sale bookings open at midnight tomorrow for nine days. The discount airline market in the UAE has become more crowded as flydubai competes with Air Arabia, which was established in 2003 and flies from Sharjah International Airport, and the Kuwait-based Jazeera Airways, which began operations in 2005 and uses Dubai International Airport as a secondary hub.

Other low-cost Saudi and Bahraini airlines also fly to the UAE. The main full-service UAE airlines, Etihad and Emirates, are also slashing fares as the aviation industry worldwide struggles with a dramatic fall in bookings. Jazeera bounced back from a loss in the second quarter of last year to make a profit of 4.4 million Kuwaiti dinars (Dh56m, US$15.3m) for 2008. Air Arabia announced a profit of Dh510m for the year, based on increasing its passengers by a third, to 3.6 million.

Dubai International Airport has seen a rise in air traffic following promotions and fare discounts as well as hotel deals. The sixth-busiest international airport in the world, in May it saw 3.21 million travellers, a rise of seven per cent. The chief executive of flydubai, Ghaith al Ghaith, said more destinations would be added to the short-haul airline's network before the end of the year. The first would be announced next month, he said. The destinations will be linked to the range of their Boeing 737s.

"Four and a half hours is the range of the 737 and that's a really good range because it takes in a population of 2.5 billion in north Africa, eastern Europe, also Asia, India and Russia," he said. "Bookings have been better than expected. We've said we'd like bookings to be 70 per cent of capacity over a sustained period of time." The model for flydubai is for cheap fares coupled with additional fees for food and luggage in excess of 10kg.

Mr al Ghaith said he was surprised at the growing number of bookings into Dubai. "In the summer, the numbers going out of UAE are higher because not many people want to spend the warm summer in UAE," he said. "But our bookings for August show the reverse is true." He declined to give passenger figures but said: "Certainly our routes going out from here at the moment are quite a bit higher than we expected. If you check on the website, a lot of our flights are sold out.

"There are only a couple of percentage points difference between bookings for our four routes. Alexandria is very full but there's really nothing much in it. There was also a boost in bookings for the Lebanese election, which was a week after our launch." Flydubai's addition of Aleppo, the airline's second Syrian destination, means it will offer flights to the four biggest cities in the Levant. Daily flights between Dubai and Aleppo will begin on July 13.

jhenzell@thenational.ae

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