Flydubai plans to double routes and staff size

After attracting more than 500,000 passengers in less than a year of operations, the budget carrier flydubai has major expansion plans.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - AUGUST 9:  A flydubai plane on the tarmac at Terminal 2 of the Dubai International airport in Dubai on August 9, 2009.  (Randi Sokoloff / The National)  For Stock. *** Local Caption ***  RS005-080909-flydubai.jpg
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The low-cost airline flydubai is planning to double its number of routes and staff size this year after attracting more than 500,000 passengers in less than a year of operations, its chief executive says. The airline hopes it will cross the 1 million passenger mark this year after first launching services last June, Ghaith al Ghaith, the chief executive of flydubai, said during a welcoming ceremony in Muscat yesterday to mark the airline's first flight to the city.

"We are almost 600,000 now," Mr al Ghaith said. "We went from idea to plan to action so fast, I think it's been incredibly successful." The airline was announced at the height of the global boom in air travel in early 2008 but eventually launched in June last year, during the worst business environment in airline history. The International Air Transport Association (IATA), has said that airlines lost an estimated US$9.4 billion (Dh34.52bn) last year.

But the Middle East was among the best-performing regions and has rebounded strongly. In January, the region registered growth of 23.6 per cent in revenue passenger kilometres (RPKs), a key industry metric, IATA said. "[The launch] went better than expected, considering the circumstances," Mr al Ghaith said. "We had no problem financing the aircraft, we had no problem attracting a huge number of people to try our flights, and we didn't cancel our orders.

"In fact we received one more than we had originally thought for last year." The airline is one of several new budget airlines that have sprouted up in the Middle East over the past few years, fuelled by the region's economic growth. After its first flight to Beirut last June, the airline quickly built up its fleet to six Boeing 737-800 aircraft flying to 11 regional destinations by the end of last year, and this week it launches flights to Kuwait and Muscat.

The airline expects to grow from 400 employees to 800 by the end of this year. And it is on the verge of another milestone, Mr al Ghaith said, in becoming the second-largest airline at Dubai International Airport after Emirates Airline, surpassing several Indian carriers that operate multiple flights a day to the emirate. "We will reach number two soon, if we haven't already," he said. This year, flydubai will receive another seven aircraft, with deliveries accelerating to one a month starting in October.

They will be part of a $4bn, 50-aircraft order made in 2008. All 50 are scheduled for delivery by the end of 2015. The airline's strategy has been to offer basement fares to popular destinations in the region such as the Levant and the GCC, although it has also sought to differentiate itself from Emirates by flying to smaller cities such as Djibouti and Baku that full-service airlines have avoided.

The airline has some of the lowest operating costs of airlines worldwide, according to FBE Aerospace in London, and was the first budget airline in the region to charge for checked-in luggage, which it says allows passengers to pay only for services they use. "This way we keep the fares low and the fares fair," Mr al Ghaith said. He declined to comment on plans to fly into India, which was supposed to begin last year but was abruptly postponed for "operational reasons".

Last week, The Economic Times of India reported the country's civil aviation department had approved flydubai to begin services to several Indian destinations, and that last year's pull-out happened because it "failed to receive regulatory approval from Indian aviation authorities". "Of course we will fly to India," Mr al Ghaith said. "But when, how, and how many flights, we will have to wait for that."