RAS AL KHAIMAH // RAK Airways, the state-backed airline of Ras al Khaimah, will relaunch its scheduled passenger services on October 10, almost two years after it suspended operations amid the global downturn and focused instead on charter flights. Using two leased Boeing 737-400 aircraft, a rebranded RAK Airways will initially fly to Calicut in the Indian state of Kerala and to Jeddah.
Citing improvements in the global economy and greater demand for air travel, Sheikh Omar bin Saqr Al Qasimi, the chairman of the airline, said "the time is now right to play our part" in the emirate's diversification plans, which include creating a vibrant tourism industry, an international freight hub and vacation homes for expatriates. The airline was launched in late 2007 and operated scheduled services to Lebanon, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh until late 2008, when the global downturn dampened demand for air travel.
"We were forced to temporarily withdraw regular operations due to an exceptionally tough market," Sheikh Omar said. Recently, however, "demand has soared in the region", he said, citing statistics from the International Air Transport Association, which reported July traffic growth in the "strong double digits" for routes linked to the Middle East, as well as a new profit forecast of US$400 million (Dh1.46 billion) for the region's airlines this year, up from $100m a few months ago.
When it relaunches, RAK Airways will enter a crowded UAE marketplace. The country has become a global transport hub, with service from more than 130 airlines, and is home to four carriers - Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways, Air Arabia and flydubai. With a relatively small population of about 250,000 in its home emirate, the airline plans to court business aggressively from residents in Dubai and Sharjah. The drive includes offering free shuttle transportation from nearby emirates and free overnight parking at Ras al Khaimah International Airport, officials said. In addition, promotional fares starting at Dh10 are being offered for the first flights on both routes.
At a press conference yesterday, officials unveiled a logo they said would help customers see the carrier as "upbeat, fun and friendly", and a new slogan, "Small Fares, Big Deals". Both themes echo recent budget airline launches. And although the flights would operate in an all economy-class configuration, with 168 seats, the airline would not be a budget carrier, said Omar Jahameh, the airline's chief executive, citing plans to offer baggage allowances and in-flight meals.
Despite the efforts invested in unveiling the new brand, officials were still tight-lipped about many of the airline's plans. They declined to forecast destinations beyond the first two and said they were keeping "all options open" about aircraft acquisitions. RAK Airways signed a deal with Boeing in February 2008 for four 737-800 aircraft, although it has not said when it would receive its first delivery or when it might choose to exercise options for another two planes.
Until it adds routes, the airline will use any spare capacity on the 737s for charter flights operated by a partner airline, Eastern Sky Jets, officials said. The company also leases a larger Boeing 757 aircraft, which it plans to continue operating for charter flights.