Abu Dhabi's first two direct air connections with Egypt's second city of Alexandria began yesterday after Etihad Airways and Air Arabia Egypt launched inaugural flights. The service is the fifth route launched by Air Arabia Egypt, which started operations last month out of Alexandria. The budget airline is a joint venture between Air Arabia, based in Sharjah, and the Egyptian travel company Travco Group.
The rare introduction of two new services on the same day will finally cater to a long-underserved market for tourists bound for Egypt and Alexandria people living and working in the UAE, said Jim el Murr, the general manager of Salem Travel in Abu Dhabi. "There is a lot of demand to this city all year round," he said. Alexandria has been such a busy destination for the travel agency that Mr el Murr had planned on organising charter flights for the route before learning of the two airlines' plans.
Both airlines will operate four services between the two cities each week using Airbus A320 aircraft, which are capable of handling about 140 passengers a flight. "Etihad doing this at the same time confirms to us that there is a market which is enough for two carriers," said Ali al Hamdany, the chief operating officer of Air Arabia Egypt. Alexandria is the second-largest city in Egypt, with a population of 4.1 million. Its citizens previously needed to travel to Cairo for direct air connections to the UAE capital.
The airlines offer different customer experiences and are not expected to compete directly for passengers, Mr el Murr said. Alexandria is the third hub for Air Arabia after Sharjah and Casablanca. A fourth, in Amman, is in the planning stages. Air Arabia's international franchising strategy has seen it take ownership stakes of between 40 and 49 per cent in start-ups, with the rest taken by local investors to satisfy foreign ownership restrictions.