Saudi may get budget airline

Saudi Arabia’s beleaguered flying public may soon have the lower fares and greater frequency of flights that it has been craving for.

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By  David Ingham Published  January 1, 2004

Saudi Arabia’s beleaguered flying public may soon have the lower fares and greater frequency of flights that it has been craving for. National Aviation Services (NAS), widely regarded as the largest private aviation company in Saudi Arabia, is mulling the launch of a low cost airline to serve routes within the Kingdom. “We are assessing the whole business opportunity, and that entails assessing the routes, assessing the load factors, passenger behaviour and movements, assessing the regulatory environment, assessing what opening the market entails, and assessing what is the right equipment,” says Al Zeer. Although NAS hasn’t yet decided 100% whether it will go ahead with the launch, Al Zeer is sure that there is a market for more airlines to serve the domestic Saudi market. “The population is growing at a very high rate, and the average Saudi is getting more and more sophisticated in his tastes, and this creates a need for other companies to provide commercial air transportation services,” he says. Al Zeer is confident that the Saudi government will also extend its ‘open skies’ policies onto international routes, which would further the opportunities available to its proposed airline. However, when this will happen is impossible to guess. “I couldn’t even begin to predict that, but I think it is just a matter of time,” says Al Zeer. “Deregulation took place in America in the 1970s, and it took more that 20 years to get to Europe. If it takes another six or seven to get to the Middle East, then that’s not bad. It’s all just a natural part of globalisation.” Low cost, or ‘no frills’, carriers have totally shaken up the aviation business in North America and Europe, giving the flying public lower fares in exchange for limited services on board the plane. The Middle East’s first low cost carrier, Air Arabia, launched in October out of Sharjah, serving cities such as Beirut, Kuwait and Damascus at prices up to 50% lower than those offered by state airlines. Another low cost carrier, menaJet, is due to launch from Sharjah in the first quarter of 2004.

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