Air Arabia CEO sees 'much better' second-half of the year for air travel

Air Arabia still intends to take delivery of its order of 120 Airbus A320 family jets in 2024, Adel Ali said

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 28 APRIL 2019. The third day of Arabian Travel Market at the Dubai World Trade Center. Adel Ali, CEO Air Arabia. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: Deena Kamel. Section: Business.

Air Arabia's boss sees a "much better" second half of 2021 for air travel before a return to normality by 2022, he said on Tuesday.

The low-cost airline anticipates a "good boom" in business for the aviation industry once countries lift travel restrictions and airports simplify procedures, Adel Ali, Air Arabia's chief executive, said in an interview with aviation consultant John Strickland at an online event organised by Arabian Travel Market on Tuesday.

"I hope airports over the world will not over-engineer it and make it over-complex, the way they did post-9/11," he said. "I'm hoping that the second half of this year will be a much better half and 2022 will be more getting into normality."

The Covid-19 pandemic has hit the aviation sector particularly hard, but demand is beginning to recover in fits and starts due to the increased pace of the vaccine distribution in many countries across the world.

Air Arabia Abu Dhabi, a joint venture between Etihad Airways and Air Arabia that launched in July 2020 during the pandemic, is "doing relatively well under the circumstances" Mr Ali said.

"I'm confident about the fact that once we go post-Covid we see a very good potential in the Abu Dhabi hub and it will grow very well, the CEO said. "It's a good thing for Air Arabia, for Etihad and for Abu Dhabi as well."

Air Arabia, the UAE's only listed airline, operates five hubs in Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah, Abu Dhabi, Egypt and Morocco.

Air Arabia Abu Dhabi competes in the UAE capital with another new entrant into the market Wizz Air Abu Dhabi, a joint venture between Hungarian low-cost carrier Wizz Air and Abu Dhabi state holding company ADQ.

"The market is sizeable," Mr Ali said. "I hope they will be able to create their own niche and we will be doing our own niche."

Wizz Air Abu Dhabi currently serves 23 routes in 15 countries from its hub at Abu Dhabi International Airport and plans to expand its operations after the emirate announced new Covid-19 quarantine-free travel rules from July.

Air Arabia still intends to take delivery of its order of 120 Airbus A320 family jets – including 20 of the ultra-long range A321XLR planes – which are due for delivery in 2024, Mr Ali said.

"Every indication says that the market will fully go back to 2019 levels around 2024, so hopefully if all those predictions are correct, then we will be in the right position to take delivery at the time," he said.

Carriers around the world have been negotiating with planemakers to defer upcoming deliveries of their aircraft in a bid to conserve cash during the Covid-19 pandemic that has paralysed travel demand and withered revenue.

Air Arabia's boss said he hopes that Belarus' deployment of a fighter jet to divert a Ryanair flight and arrest an opposition journalist is a "one-off" individual incident and will not impact how the industry is regulated.

The incident will be dealt with by the governments of the states involved, Mr Ali said.

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