x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

RAK Airways lands Afghan contract

The airline picks up a charter contract to fly out of Afghanistan and is edging closer to a new business plan.

RAK Airways was forced to downsize its fleet to one aeroplane and cut its route network and staff.
RAK Airways was forced to downsize its fleet to one aeroplane and cut its route network and staff.

RAK Airways has picked up a charter contract to fly out of Afghanistan and is edging closer to a new business plan focused on flying out of Ras al Khaimah International Airport, after ceasing scheduled service last year. The company plans to begin operating flights from Kabul to Dubai and Frankfurt next month on behalf of Ariana Afghan Airlines, the country's flag carrier, pending approval from UAE aviation authorities.

"Everything is ready; we're just waiting for approval," said Kristian Kirchheiner, the chief executive of RAK Airways. The move will allow the Ras al Khaimah firm to use its one aeroplane, a Boeing 757-200, until it completes a new business plan. It is also part of a growing trend of smaller UAE air operators flying to countries in the region that are slowly opening up through reconstruction efforts, with the Abu Dhabi-based Elite Aviation expecting to open two routes to Iraq in the coming months.

RAK Airways was launched in 2007 as a regional airline and initially served cities such as Dhaka, Colombo, Calicut and Chittagong. It was forced to downsize its fleet, route network and staff due to low demand compounded by the global downturn in air travel. In the past three years it has endured numerous changes including five different chief executives. The carrier has flown charters on behalf of other carriers such as Hewa Bora Airways in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The plane was used on flights from Kinshasa to Paris, Brussels and Johannesburg. Since late October, however, the plane has reportedly been parked at RAK Airport.

Mr Kirchheiner said the airline recently signed agreements with Ariana Afghan Airlines to operate on the Kabul-Dubai and Kabul-Frankfurt routes.The flights will begin on February 1 once approvals have been received from the General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA). RAK Airways will fly twice a week between Kabul and Frankfurt, increasing its service to three times a week in the summer, and once a week to Dubai.

Mr Kirchheiner suggested that the Afghanistan service, like RAK's time in the Congo, was more of a stopgap measure and that the company's new business plan would focus on operating out of the northern emirate. "Our core business plan is still aimed at Ras al Khaimah as a hub for regional routes. Flying from Kabul to Frankfurt is not our main business," he said. Nevertheless, it follows moves from other air operators to grab opportunities in the slowly stabilising countries under US occupation in the region.

Elite Aviation plans to launch a service to the Iraqi capital Baghdad and to Erbil in the northern Kurdish region. Elite is also interested in Afghanistan, said Khalid al Hashemi, the president of the airline. "Abu Dhabi could be considered as a hub connecting the world to Iraq and to places like Afghanistan also," he said. Service to the two Iraqi cities was "almost ready", he said. Elite has a fleet of two Airbus A320s and one Boeing 737 and is hoping to receive its UAE flying certificate from the GCAA soon, Mr al Hashemi said. Since last year, Elite has flown on behalf of partner airlines such as Germany's Blue Wings.

igale@thenational.ae