x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Elite to open new Europe air routes

The start-up partnered with a German airline, Blue Wings, to sidestep air rights rules between the UAE and Germany.

Elite Aviation, the new charter airline, plans to announce new routes between Abu Dhabi and Europe next month after becoming the first carrier to connect the UAE capital with Berlin. The locally based start-up formed a partnership with the German airline Blue Wings to get around aviation rights rules between the UAE and Germany that have stopped Emirates and Etihad from launching services. Khalid al Hashemi, the president of Elite Aviation, said the company had plans to grow beyond its services linking Berlin and Düsseldorf with Abu Dhabi. It is looking at increasing its fleet to include wide-bodied aircraft and making acquisitions at a time of economic downturn that has caused the region's carriers to introduce discounts and promotions in the past six months. "We know that this is a strategic investment," Mr al Hashemi said, adding the airline, which began services from Abu Dhabi International Airport on June 15, did not expect to make money in the next six months. But Mr al Hashemi said the emirate had fared well in the economic downturn, which would help Elite arrange financing. "We have no problem raising capital," he said. Elite is being funded by its parent company, Elite Holdings, with more than US$10 million (Dh36.7m) in operating funds, which does not include leasing its aircraft. Elite Holdings has interests in the Abu Dhabi construction, aviation and private equity markets. The carrier operates a fleet of seven single-aisle Airbus A320s, many flying within Europe on charter contracts. For its flights between the UAE and Germany, Elite is unique in employing the short-range A320 for the six-hour journey, a flight time normally reserved for larger aircraft. But it has reduced the number of seats on the plane to 22 in business and 110 in economy, resulting in less weight and roomier cabins, including a 94cm seat pitch in economy. Elite Aviation flies twice daily from Berlin and three times weekly from Düsseldorf to Abu Dhabi. From Abu Dhabi, Etihad flies to Munich and Frankfurt, while Emirates flies from Dubai to Düsseldorf, Hamburg, Munich and Frankfurt. Düsseldorf is an attractive destination because it is near Cologne, a popular destination for Gulf residents seeking medical treatment, Mr al Hashemi said. The company has appointed Omeir Travel as its local sales agent, while Blue Wings performs regular aircraft maintenance for Elite in Germany. Longer-range, wide-bodied A330s are the next step, said Juergen Fiebig, the chief executive of Elite Aviation. "We are in route development," Mr Fiebig said, adding other European destinations should be announced soon. Through its alliance with Blue Wings, which operates under Europe's open skies policy, Elite can fly from anywhere in Europe to Abu Dhabi if it receives no-objection letters from airlines in those countries. But the company does not plan to take on the UAE's full-service airlines. "We don't want to compete against them," Mr Fiebig said. "We see ourself as a niche carrier." igale@thenational.ae