Jazeera's era

Jazeera Airways began operations last year, following the Kuwaiti government’s groundbreaking decision to open its aviation industry to competition. As the airline celebrates its first anniversary, has it really fulfilled its promise to shake up the Middle East’s aviation industry?

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By  Barbara Cockburn Published  December 4, 2006

|~||~||~|Jazeera Airways began operations last year, following the Kuwaiti government’s groundbreaking decision to open its aviation industry to competition. As the airline celebrates its first anniversary, has it really fulfilled its promise to shake up the Middle East’s aviation industry? Three years ago, the Kuwait government opened its domestic aviation sector to competition – a decision that allowed private airlines to compete with the state-owned Kuwait Airways Corporation in both the passenger and cargo markets. The opportunity proved irresistible for Marwan Boodai, the founder and chief executive officer at Jazeera Airways, who wanted to create a low-cost airline for passengers travelling between Kuwait and other Middle Eastern destinations. Jazeera Airways was born as a result of those aspirations, starting operations in October 2005. One year later, and Boodai has managed to overcome the usual start-up hurdles and achieve a considerable amount of success along the way. “Opening the aviation industry in Kuwait was a challenge, especially because it was independent from the government,” he says. “Jazeera Airways was launched as the Middle East’s first privately owned airline. It specifically targeted the low-cost market, which I think was previously neglected by the industry.” During the early days, Boodai and his team approached governments in the region to secure traffic rights and present the airline’s ‘low-cost, high-value’ business model. “We created a detailed business plan with the help of leading international consultants,” says Boodai. “It highlighted Jazeera Airways’ ability to create value in the travel markets of each country we served. We are presenting a quality service, with a fleet of brand new aircraft, built in England and Germany and featuring the world’s best engines from France.” The airline’s fleet currently includes four Airbus A320s, which is the standard workhorse in the low-cost carrier market. A fifth A320 is being added to the fleet next month and the rest will be delivered thereafter. From the first day of operations, the carrier managed to obtain five destinations, which initially proved sufficient for its relatively small fleet. However, with such grand ambitions, Boodai claims Jazeera Airways has opened more destinations than any other Middle East airline – with over 13 destinations, including Bahrain, Dubai, Egypt and Jordan. It also services Iraq and a number of cities in India. “Day by day, month by month, whatever we promised was delivered,” says Boodai. “Of course, expanding the existing routes and being competitive is important, but the priority was making life easier for passengers by simplifying the travel process – and that’s exactly what we’ve done. We’ve also boosted the local economies and expanded our operations at the same time.” Jazeera Airways has faced a number of challenges during its first year of operations. Amongst the most prominent, according to Boodai, was the airline’s role in evacuating people from Beirut earlier this year, during a period of political upheaval. However, instead of being caught unawares, it seems Jazeera Airways was fully prepared for such unexpected events. “We accounted for everything, including this crisis, even though it was sudden and shocking,” asserts Boodai. Flights were diverted to Damascus and Aleppo, and a flow of Kuwait residents was carried to Syria. Boodai views the Beirut crisis as a test of Jazeera’s well-planned risk management strategy systems and procedures, and he is proud of the job. The Kuwaiti government also gave the airline acknowledgement for its role in helping out the country. “The logistics of operating from two airports was mammoth, because there were thousands of passengers without tickets and identification,” he adds. “However, we proactively planned for such occurrences and this worked in our favour. We managed to swiftly carry 8000 people out of the country in good time, which is a great achievement from a humanitarian point of view.” Many industry experts are unconvinced that new start-ups will last the distance, asserting that most fold in the first year. Jazeera is one such start-up that has surely proven the experts wrong. Observing that the Middle East aviation market is expanding, Boodai sees only rising opportunities for the airline. “Today, the Middle East market has more than 130 million passengers. It shows the size of our market and the potential to grow in the future,” he says. “Being the very first private airline in the Middle East has obvious advantages. We can move fast and steady to capture the market.” Boodai is under no illusion that next year will be another challenging year with the launch of new destinations. Spurred on by the growth of low cost carriers in the European markets, he aspires to achieve something similar. “This will happen in the Middle East, but it’s only the beginning,” he predicts. “We have also earmarked a couple of new destinations.” In the presence of Boodai’s infectious enthusiasm, it’s hard to resist asking whether Jazeera will come up with a proposition for long haul low-cost flights. Boodai is coy about ruling this out. “There is a potential to expand further to long haul in the future,” he admits. “Jazeera’s business model is to maintain the lowest possible cost, while offering the highest value of product. We would hope to offer that for long haul, but still need to fully explore this option.” With such an ambitious and positive chief executive at the helm, the future does seem bright, and Jazeera airlines has proved itself as one to watch in the Middle East’s aviation industry. ||**||

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