Air-Arabia-CEO Adel Abdullah Ali tells aeroTELEGRAPH which markets he sees as most promising - and why he won't order widebody aircraft.
Air Arabia received its first two out of six Airbus A321 LR. How satisfied are you with your new aircraft?
I think from the passenger experience point of view it is a very good airplane. The capacity and the cabin environment are good, the range is excellent. Of course though, it is a new technology with new engines. We come from an area where the weather is not like in Europe. And the engine has not been tested frequently in our harsh weather, so we need to see what happens. There are a couple challenges, so we wait how it develops. But overall, we think it is a superb airplane.
Six aircraft is not really a big order.
We always said that we take them as a trial. When we took delivery, the XLR had not been announced yet. We wanted to see the capability of these six aircraft and if we feel comfortable with them, then go for more. However, because the delivery of the A321 LRs is slow – we should have gotten 5 this year – it has caused an impact for us. The A321 XLR won’t be an option for us before 2023.
You plan to order 100 new aircraft this year. Which type are you leaning towards?
We have to options. One is Airbus, the other is Boeing. We are talking with both manufacturers. The sooner we know about the future of the 737 Max, the better. As soon as we know that, we make our decision.
Some low-cost airlines are operating wide bodies aircrafts for long haul operations – Norwegian or Scoot are using the Boeing 787 for example. Are wide-bodies an option for you?
No. If you look at South-East-Asia and the Eurasian market, it is mostly highly populated areas. So it might make sense there. Air Asia for example have big businesses between their bases to China and Australia, so therefore their business dictates wide-body aircrafts. We think in our business it’s better to operate something that has the right range and not as many seats.
I think if you experience our new A321, you do not feel like you are in a small aircraft.
A lot of passengers are hesitant to fly long haul on smaller aircrafts. How do you convince passengers of that model?
It depends on how you carry the passengers. Ever since we started out, our cabin has been good. We are one of the few airlines, that have a 32 inch seat pitch. I think if you experience our new A321, you do not feel like you are in a small aircraft. Also, if there are not 400 people inside the plane but 200, and six person instead of up to 10 seats in a row, the whole travel experience is better.
With airlines like Jazeera Airways, Salam Air or Flydubai, there are a few low cost airlines in the gulf area with similar expansion plans like Air Arabia. That is a lot of competition…
Since we started out, we have always said that as we grow, there will be other airlines in our market. Some will succeed and survive and some will not. We have a few years advantage of being in this market, so we have to be good and work hard to keep it this way. We think that we created a network and customer base that people like. We are increasing seat factors and the number of flights. We can’t predict the future, but I think the network matters as well as brand identity and size. We are managing both carefully to ensure that we don’t fail. I can’t say what happens to the other airlines, but i hope that they also succeed. It is not an easy business.
While low cost airlines like Ryanair, Easyjet or Southwest are operating mainly in one continent, Air Arabia is flying to Asia, Europa and Africa. Does that complicate your business?
Yes. You have to see the big picture: Easyjet has Europe, and there are 500 Million People living in Europe. Our area is not as populated, so for us, it is all about flight range. If an airplane flies for five or six hours it reaches our destinations in Europe, Africa or the Middle East. In our experience, as long as your product is consistent wherever you go, it works. This has been our experience year after year.
What market do you see most potential in?
I think Asia at the moment is mostly driven by aircraft range. Once we get more of the ordered A321LR and have possibilities to fly to more destinations in Asia, it will become driven by traffic rights. Over all I think there are more potential airports that we can fly to in Europe than South-East-Asia. In South-East-Asia, we maybe can go to four our five destinations. We also go to China if we get the rights. But in Europe, there are much more airports and opportunities for us at the moment.
We would be happy to offer more flights between Germany and the U.A.E. But at the moment, we are rather looking into flights between Egypt and Germany.
Our business is basic. Our plans will always be: Can I fly there, is there a business? If yes, then we should make an arrangement.
So do you see Business in Germany, Austria or Switzerland?
We just have linked Vienna with Sharjah. Germany would be a good market if we obtain the traffic rights. We see more people from our region come to Germany for holidays. And as Germans like to travel as well, it is a good business case.
So do you have concrete plans for new destinations?
With our new airplanes, we can fly everywhere in Germany. We would be happy to offer more flights between Germany and the U.A.E. But at the moment, we are rather looking into flights between Egypt and Germany.
How about Africa? A lot of airlines africa are complaining, that it is hard to introduce new routes, because there are no agreements between african countries like Open-Skies. Is this also an issue for Air Arabia?
With Air Arabia Maroc, we have an airline in Marocco, which flies to about 40 airports in Europe. In Eastern-Central-Africa, we only fly to Kenya at the moment. Maybe we can go further with the A321LR, but as you said, you can only go where you have traffic rights and this is not easy in Africa.