Air Arabia calls for low-cost airports to meet rising demand

Adel Ali, Chief Executive of Sharjah-based Air Arabia (FILE)

More low-cost, or secondary, airports are necessary to meet increased activity in the low-cost carrier sector in the region, Air Arabia's chief executive said.

"The region must invest today in the infrastructure necessary to meet the demands of tomorrow," Adel Ali, Chief Executive of Sharjah-based Air Arabia said in an e-mailed statement yesterday, adding that such investments will support increased activity in the low-cost carrier sectors in the Gulf in particular.

Air Arabia is the Middle East's first and largest low-cost carrier, followed by Kuwait's Jazeera Airways. Bahrain Air joined the low-cost market earlier this year, while the Government of Dubai has announced plans to set up a budget carrier in partnership with Emirates airline, the statement said.

"The Middle East as a whole, and especially the Gulf, is witnessing enormous economic growth, which has had a direct knock-on effect on regional air travel," Ali said.

"The need for such airport has never been greater when Middle East air travel is growing at double the global average," he added.

Pointing to the successful development of Sharjah Airport, the carrier's primary hub, Adel Ali recently told an audience of high-level industry decision-makers that the region must invest in the development of secondary airports that will support increased activity in the sector, which has expanded rapidly following the launch of Air Arabia in October 2003.

"Currently, too many Middle East airports are underdeveloped or overly congested. As we move towards the full adoption of open-skies policies and with the highest number of aircraft on order anywhere in the world, the region must invest today in the infrastructure necessary to meet the demands.

"Pioneered by Air Arabia, the regional low-cost sector is growing at an especially dramatic pace, with more than 10 new low-cost carriers introduced in the region in the past five years alone. Considering that this segment still represents just two per cent of total regional market share – compared to 25 per cent in more mature markets, such as North America – it is clear that the opening of new secondary airports is vital to ensuring that this growth can be sustained in the long term.

"Secondary airports are able to maintain costs that are on average 20 per cent below those of their peers, partly because of lower operating expenses associated with their location outside major metro areas. In North America, Europe and Asia, we have seen an ongoing expansion of such secondary airports, which not only help us maintain low fares, but also support the economic development of the cities in which they are located.

"The ongoing expansion of Air Arabia and the consistent growth of Sharjah are clearly interlinked, with each supporting the other, and driving increased tourism revenues and other ancillary services," Ali concluded. "There is today an opportunity to replicate this success story elsewhere in the region. We must collectively seize the moment to invest in our shared future."