RAK Airways faces new woes

The airways's future is again in turmoil after it postpones plans to relaunch, dismisses its sixth chief executive in three years and reveals it is renegotiating an aircraft order with Boeing.

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RAK Airways's future is again in turmoil after the airline said it was postponing plans to relaunch, dismissed its sixth chief executive in three years and revealed it was renegotiating an aircraft order with Boeing. The news calls attention to a Dh1.65 billion (US$449 million) order with Boeing for the purchase of four single-aisle, 737-800NG (Next Generation) aircraft announced in February 2008 - a deal that company officials said was still going forward. "What we are doing is renegotiating the contract; it's going to take a little bit of time," said Sheikh Omar bin Saqr Al Qasimi, the chairman of RAK Airways.

He said Boeing had been co-operative and understanding in the matter. A Boeing spokesman said yesterday: "We don't comment publicly on negotiations with our customers." The airline was launched in 2007 as the northern emirate sought to diversify its economy, stimulate its nascent tourism and property sectors, and cash in on the aviation boom that Dubai and Sharjah have tapped into with their carriers, Emirates Airline and Air Arabia, respectively.

RAK Airways initially operated flights from the northern emirate to Dhaka, Chittagong, Calicut and Colombo. It ended those scheduled passenger services in late 2008 when the economic downturn was having its greatest impact on airlines worldwide. The carrier laid off 60 employees and reduced its fleet from three aircraft to one. Since then, the airline has been operating on a charter-only basis, and last month it picked up a charter contract to operate flights from Kabul to Dubai and Frankfurt, on behalf of Ariana Afghan Airlines.

Under the leadership of the outgoing chief executive Kristian Kirchheiner, who joined the airline about May last year, a relaunch of scheduled passenger services was being planned for later this year, using Ras al Khaimah airport as a base. But yesterday, the airline acknowledged it had dismissed the executive and was "slowing down". "With the economic situation and difficulties, we are slowing down a little bit," Sheikh Omar said. "We were going to relaunch the airline, but we have postponed that."

He added: "We would love to launch it as soon as there is a positive economic situation." Sheikh Omar said he had identified a replacement for Mr Kirchheiner, the latest casualty in a string of chief executives whose stints at RAK Airways have been short-lived. The carrier has flown charters on behalf of other airlines such as Hewa Bora Airways in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The airline's single plane was used for flights from Kinshasa to Paris, Brussels and Johannesburg. Since late October, however, the plane has reportedly been parked at RAK airport.