Saudi Arabia's budget airline Flyadeal is studying the feasibility of operating long-haul flights amid discussions for closer co-operation with its parent company Saudi Arabian Airlines.
The companies are looking at ways to "optimise" their operations over the next year or two, but no decisions have been made yet, Sudeep Ghai, chief customer and commercial officer at Flyadeal, told The National.
"There's been talk about, for example, does Flyadeal get into long-haul low cost? Do we get into serving the needs of Umrah and Hajj traffic as complementary to Saudia [Saudi Arabian Airlines]?" he said. "These are all things for discussion and potential for the future."
The move is another sign of the first stirrings of consolidation among Arabian Gulf airlines as economic headwinds forge closer links in regional aviation. Recently Dubai long-haul airline Emirates and low-cost Flydubai formed a partnership to share passengers on each others' networks and co-ordinate flight scheduling at their home hub.
"Its obviously taken a lot longer for Emirates and Flydubai to get to that relationship. We won't take as long to get to that point," Mr Ghai said.
One of the discussions will focus on ways for the carriers to co-operate on boosting religious travel to the kingdom during Hajj season and year-round for Umrah pilgrimage.
Flyadeal will select in November between narrow-body planes Boeing 737 Max or Airbus A320 for its planned 50-jet order, Mr Ghai said. The jets would permit a four to five hours flight range that would open new markets in the Indian subcontinent or parts of West Africa with significant Muslim populations keen on religious travel.
The aviation industry has long debated the viability of low-cost long-haul operations following a few failed attempts. However, recently there has been a resurgence of such operators that are now challenging established carriers and prompting them to start their own low-cost units.
Flyadeal says it has the natural advantage of having Saudi Arabia, the heart of Muslim pilgrimage, as its hub that could make longer flights a viable option.
"We’ve got the natural home base of being able to serve over a billion Muslims worldwide. And they’ll want at some point in their life to come to Jeddah," he said.
The regions with large Muslim populations worldwide to connect to Saudi Arabia would include the subcontinent and South East Asia, and some African markets with potential routes including Pakistan, India and Nigeria, he said.
"There’s argument for us to look at and evaluate what’s the right way to approach these markets as a group," he said.