x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

New routes for flydubai as airline eyes growth

Dubai's budget airline will boost passenger figures by 140 per cent this year as it adds new aircraft and destinations.

The budget airline flydubai plans to add a holidays division and bring in new routes as it targets a 140 per cent rise in passengers this year compared with last year.

The carrier is expected to link up with tour operators and hotels to create budget-themed holiday packages for UAE residents seeking short breaks throughout the region, as well as international tourists looking to stay in the Emirates.

"We will sell holidays in the future through a 'flydubai holidays' type of set-up," said Ghaith al Ghaith, the carrier's chief executive. "It is in the planning process." The offerings should open up new travel options for budget-conscious UAE residents, including those looking for last-minute weekend getaways.

After an aggressive expansion campaign since its launch in June 2009, in which flydubai opened a new route at an average of every two-and-a-half weeks, the airline plans to continue to add new aircraft and inaugurate new destinations this year.

The airline operates a fleet of 17 Boeing 737s and will add another 37 of the short-haul jets during the next five years, including another four this year alone.

The airline flies to 36 cities, all within a five-hour radius from its base at Dubai International Airport's Terminal 2, after recently adding Addis Ababa, Riyadh and Jeddah to its network. By the end of the year "we will fly to way above 40 destinations", Mr al Ghaith said.

The new destinations and aircraft will help deliver the airline's plan of boosting both seating capacity and passenger traffic this year. The growth will be 140 per cent higher than last year, Mr al Ghaith said.

Selling those extra seats is expected to be facilitated by a new distribution deal the airline signed with Travelport, which is designed to enable 63,000 travel agents to sell flydubai tickets through Travelport's online networks.

Last week, the airline also wrapped up deals to cover its fiscal arrangements for the rest of the year, when it secured financing for a Boeing 737-800NG aircraft, which sells for US$80 million (Dh293.8m) at list prices, from MC Aviation Partners, part of Mitsubishi of Japan.

Mr al Ghaith has emerged as a vocal supporter of Dubai's business model and its focus on investing in aviation and tourism infrastructure despite the global downturn, including the creation of flydubai itself. The carrier has reaped these rewards during the recent unrest in parts of the Middle East and North Africa, with tourists redirecting holidays to the "safe haven" of the UAE, he said. However, Mr al Ghaith also conceded the airline, in common with all Middle Eastern carriers, had been affected by an overall downturn in regional air travel due to regional political turmoil.