x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Launch of UAE’s first domestic airline stays grounded

The launch of the Fujairah-based Eastern Express, which was originally scheduled for the beginning of January, has been delayed further.

DUBAI // The launch of the country's first domestic airline, which was originally scheduled for the beginning of January, has been delayed further.

Fujairah-based Eastern Express was initially billed as offering flights between Fujairah and Abu Dhabi.

However, the General Civil Aviation Authority threw those plans into question earlier this year when it ruled that the company could not lease its first aircraft since it did not have national carrier status.

The chief executive Alex de Vos declined to offer details on the current stage of the negotiations.

"We need to solve some internal regulatory issues before we can release any information," he said, adding that the negotiations with the GCCA were part of that.

"It all links together. Once that high level issue is solved then the rest falls in place."

In March, Mr de Vos said the company was hoping to get around that restriction by raising the capital to purchase its own aircraft, a propeller-driven Jetstream 41.

However, the company's website says it now has a Fokker 50, a propeller aircraft that can operate on non-paved runways such as those found in Somalia.

The company's original plan was to operate domestic flights on the 200km route between Abu Dhabi and Fujairah, costing Dh645 without tax for a one way journey. In addition, the company was also going to offer daily flights to Qatar.

Mr de Vos declined to comment on whether those routes were still likely to materialise. However, a design draft for an Eastern Express TV commercial, posted on YouTube in July, said the airline would instead fly to Sharjah, as well as destinations in Somalia, Somaliland, Kenya and Djibouti.

The company's website has only one flight option, to Nairobi. A customer services agent at the company said that the destination would be available "in the near future" and that other destinations in the Horn of Africa would follow.

mcroucher@thenational.ae