Wataniya eyes more than 50% load factor despite downturn
Kuwait's start-up airline, Wataniya Airways, is targeting more than 50 per cent load factor in the first year of its operations, according to its top executive.
"Our projection for seat factors is very modest. A full-service short haul airline in Europe would expect a year-round seat factor of about 70 per cent. We have budgeted for less than that in our first year of operations. I cannot give out an exact number but it would be certainly less than 70 per cent," George Cooper, Chief Executive Officer of Wataniya Airways, told Emirates Business.
Positioned as Kuwait's "premier" airline (with aircraft configuration of 26 first class seats and 96 premium economy seats), Wataniya is looking to break-even in three year's time. "Our business plan covers three years (2009-2011). So, we should be breaking even within the next three years," Cooper said.
Due to launch services from the new Royal Terminal in Kuwait to Dubai on January 24 – a month earlier than originally scheduled – as its first destination, the airline yesterday said it has appointed Planet Group as Wataniya Airways' general sales agent in the UAE.
Wataniya is further aiming for a market share of less than 10 per cent in its first year of operations, according to Cooper.
"We are looking at a very small market share – probably less than 10 per cent. Our aircraft have only 120 seats and if I am planning to fill less than 70 per cent, the number of seats in terms of any particular route that we would fly on, would be actually very small," he said.
He added: "The growth that Kuwait International Airport had last year is significantly more than we would be carrying by the end of this year. So our share would have been easily accommodated in the natural growth of the market." While the airline's next two routes would be Bahrain and Beirut in March 2009, the plan is to remain a regional carrier. "We are starting at a modest level. In three year's time we will only have three aircraft. We are not setting out here to be a global airline as some others in the Gulf are. This is a fairly niche product and service," Cooper said.
Asked if it's the right time to launch a new airline, positioned as "premier" when actually the premium traffic across the global is sharply declining, Cooper said: "It is not as if we decided to launch this airline last week. The airline was established in 2005. And the reason for starting this 'premier' service airline is still there. The market research that we conducted, very strongly says that there is a demand for this product in Kuwait and indeed in other cities in the Middle East."
Furthermore, the airline's fleet size would comprise four Airbus A320 aircraft by the end of this year, seven by end-2010 and 10 by the end of 2011.
While the airline will start flying to Dubai International's Terminal 1, Cooper said there is a possibility that Wataniya could operate from Dubai World Central's Al Maktoum International Airport at a later stage.
"We will look at DWC's Al-Maktoum International when it is approaching availability for us. My understanding is when it starts operations this year it would initially be aimed at low-cost airlines. Clearly, that is not us. We will wait to see what facilities are available that will develop a product for our guests.
"But we will certainly look at operations to DWC's Al-Maktoum International airport and maybe as well as to Dubai International. We could be operating to both the airports."
Wataniya Airways' parent company, Kuwait National Airways, listed its shares on the Kuwait Stock Exchange on December 15, 2008.
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