Dubai Airshow: Flydubai to return to profit in 2021, CEO says

Low-cost airline will take delivery of 33 Boeing 737 Max planes by the end of 2022

A Flydubai plane parked on the tarmac during the second day of Dubai Airshow 2021. Chris Whiteoak/ The National
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Flydubai, the sister airline of Emirates, expects to return to annual profitability in 2021 after gradually ramping up its operations, keeping its costs in check and deferring some payments, according to its chief executive.

The low-cost airline, which has been cash-positive since November 2020, exceeded pre-Covid levels in terms of number of flights, passenger traffic and number of destinations in October, compared with the same month in 2019, said chief executive Ghaith Al Ghaith.

Flydubai currently operates in 118 destinations versus 95 before the pandemic. It plans to hire 900 more employees in 2022 and will take delivery of 33 Boeing 737 Max jets over this year and next year, Mr Al Ghaith told The National at the Dubai Airshow.

“We are very positive about the future,” he said. “Based on the way the UAE has managed the Covid-19 pandemic, traffic to and from the UAE will be stronger in the coming years.”

Flydubai will take delivery of 13 Boeing 737 Max 8 jets this year and another 20 of the 737 Max 8s next year. It will also retire seven Boeing 737 Next-Generation (NG) planes.

Currently, it has 55 Boeing 737 jets in its fleet, a mix of 18 Max 8s, three Max 9s and 34 NGs.

“The UAE has managed the pandemic better than many others and we've been open for business for a long time; in Dubai business is back to normal,” Mr Al Ghaith said. “We knew that this winter the only game in town will be Dubai in terms of where the tourists will go.”

Flydubai opened 22 new destinations this year alone as governments started to ease travel restrictions, he said.

To meet this growth, the airline has taken back 90 per cent of the staff that were on unpaid leave during the pandemic and who were willing to return to work, Mr Al Ghaith said. It is now recruiting 900 employees, of which 800 will be cabin crew, pilots and engineers, as it increases capacity.

Flydubai is “constantly in the market” for new aircraft to take it beyond its current order and is in continuous talks with Boeing and Airbus, Mr Al Ghaith said.

“I was really hoping that during this airshow we'd be able to see the opportunity, but the opportunity is not there to add more capacity,” he said. “This period was not the right time … it was not the right conditions.”

He said some variants of aircraft models are not available at the time they are required.

The airline is looking at aircraft “that can improve our bottom line and expose us to other markets”, Mr Al Ghaith said.

The all-Boeing operator is open to operating a mixed fleet from both manufacturers.

“At the right time and at the right condition, we don't mind flying Airbus,” he said. “There's a possibility that you can do both models.”

However, Flydubai currently has enough aircraft and can also secure the jets on its existing order earlier, he added.

Updated: November 15, 2021, 6:23 PM