Air Arabia Abu Dhabi: Etihad, Air Arabia launch new low-cost airline in UAE
Sharjah - Aviation analysts say that the new carrier will first target Middle East and Asian markets which are under served right now.
A new UAE budget carrier has been launched by Sharjah's Air Arabia and Abu Dhabi's Etihad Aviation Group, further increasing the competition in the aviation sector as well as giving UAE residents an additional economical option to choose from.
The new carrier - called Air Arabia Abu Dhabi - is the fifth airline to operate from the UAE after Emirates, Etihad, flydubai and Air Arabia, serving 9.5 million residents. Based out of Abu Dhabi International Airport, the new carrier will target the low-cost travel market segment in the Middle East region and complement Etihad Airways, said a Press statement released on Wednesday.
Etihad and Air Arabia currently operate a combined fleet of 162 aircraft, including 109 by the former and 53 by the latter. Air Arabia flies to 170 destinations across 50 countries through its Sharjah, Morocco and Egypt hubs while Etihad flies to 80 destinations.
Air Arabia Abu Dhabi has been launched against the backdrop of a tough aviation environment as 17 airlines have gone bust so far this year globally, including Jet Airways, Thomas Cook, Aigle Zur and XL Airways, Germania, Flybmi and Adria of Slovenia. But industry executives believe that the sector will pick up as global trade war eases ahead of elections in the US.
Tony Douglas, group CEO of Etihad Aviation Group, said the carrier will offer passengers a new option for low-cost travel to and from Abu Dhabi. "We look forward to the launch of the new airline in due course".
Adel Al Ali, group CEO of Air Arabia, said the UAE has developed over the years to become a leading travel and tourism hub and this partnership will further serve the growing low-cost travel segment locally and regionally.
However, the two UAE airlines didn't share the launch date as well as the destinations for the new carrier.
Abu Dhabi Airports said the new LCC will cater to the growing low-cost travel market through its hub in Abu Dhabi International Airport, strengthening the city's air connectivity and accessibility.
"It is anticipated that the airline will greatly increase the number of destinations served from Abu Dhabi International Airport, offering new choices to passengers to travel directly to previously unserved destinations," it said.
Aviation analysts say that the new carrier will first target Middle East and Asian markets which are underserved right now.
Mark D Martin, founder and CEO of Martin Consulting, said that the Air Arabia-Etihad model will cater to markets such as Pakistan, India, North Africa, Russia and the CIS and East Europe regions that have immense potential yet are under served.
Martin noted that Etihad's long-term strategy has always been with inorganic growth where it chose to expand by means of a merger or acquisition but this marks the first time where Etihad has chosen to co-venture with a successful partner and its proven model.
Saj Ahmad, chief analyst at StrategicAero Research in London, said as Etihad is in the midst of financial restructuring and unable to launch its own low-cost carrier, the move to work with Air Arabia will help it to tap into a market that they do not have a presence.
"If anything, there's a big risk that Air Arabia will cannibalise some traffic that would otherwise travel to its hub in Sharjah," he said, adding that Etihad may want to push some services regionally to places like Saudi Arabia or re-enter Iran too.
For the new carrier, Ahmad believes, the fleet will likely come from Air Arabia's existing inventory to ensure that operations can commence quickly. "It will also ensure that costs stay capped and that both airlines can pool resources rather than having to wait for new airplanes."
Air Arabia is expected to announce order for 100-plus aircraft by January 2020, its group CEO Adel Ali said earlier this week.
Saj Ahmad noted that passengers will gain from using Etihad's big footprint at Abu Dhabi International and save them having to travel out to Sharjah just to get cheap flights.
"For the here and now, it's a better move for Etihad than it is for Air Arabia - but passengers will reap rewards regardless. As the partnership expands, the potential for connectivity growth and new markets will ensure that the partnership mirrors that of Emirates and flydubai," he added.
The carrier's board of directors will be nominated jointly by Etihad and Air Arabia to steer the company's independent strategy and business mandate.