Air Arabia to Expand Asia Coverage with Third Hub

Dubai: Air Arabia, the Sharjah-based budget airline, will reach new destinations in Asia in the next 18 months after it opens a new hub on the continent, its chief executive said on Monday.

Earlier, the airline announced its intentions to build a second base of operations in the Levant or North Africa, from where it would reach points in Europe.

With a third hub to the east, CEO Adel Ali told Gulf News the growing airline will serve new destinations in the burgeoning Asian market.

Looking east

"We are looking east," Ali said, on the sidelines of a ceremony celebrating Air Arabia's listing on the Dubai Financial Market on Monday.

"We're looking at things overall in the Arab world and some points outside as well," he noted, adding that India had been ruled out as a potential base.

With three hubs, Air Arabia would still operate its classic low-cost airline model of point-to-point service, but would operate a network stretching from Europe to Asia that would rival the long-haul airlines based in the Gulf.

Air Arabia plans to open the new hubs in the next six to 18 months, and is engaged in negotiations with civil aviation authorities, the chief executive said. To complete its expansion, the airline is in talks with Boeing and Airbus for the purchase of 34 aircraft, likely the A320 family of Airbus aircraft or Boeing's range of 737s.

The airline is expected to announce the order in September, and it could cost Dh2 billion.

New aircraft

The new aircraft will be used to enhance its schedules to India, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and begin new routes to Yemen, Bangladesh, Iran, India and Pakistan. The carrier currently flies to 34 destinations with a fleet of nine aircraft.

The airline raised the capital through a March initial public offering that raised Dh2.57 billion. In 2006, it earned Dh749.2 million in revenues, up 82 per cent compared to Dh411 million in 2005.

Including the arrival of leased airplanes over the next two years, Ali said 40 to 45 aircraft would ultimately operate out of the hub in Sharjah.