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RAK International Airport is setting a target of reaching pre-COVID-19 passenger levels by year-end. More routes added by the likes of Air Arabia and SpiceJet could help with that. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: There will be more flights and routes operated by budget airline Air Arabia and India’s SpiceJet from Ras Al Khaimah International.

The airport, which resumed taking in flights in October last, is banking on such deals to boost connectivity as the emirate attempts to position itself as a major tourist hub within the UAE.

Currently, SpiceJet passengers travelling from RAK International to Delhi can fly to multiple destinations through the carrier’s domestic service, including Bengaluru, Chennai, Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram, Kannur and Kozhikode.

The low-cost carrier also operates direct flights between UAE and seven Indian cities. And there could be even more.

“We expect even more Indian destinations to be added to SpiceJet’s direct service from Ras Al Khaimah within the coming months and years,” said Sanjay Khanna, CEO of RAK International Airport.

Air Arabia, another major carrier operating from RAK, is planning to add more destinations from there, said Khanna. “With these additions from the various carriers, we fully anticipate reaching our pre-COVID-19 level passenger throughput by the end of 2021,” he added.

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India factor

RAK Airport’s tilt towards India is not all that hard to explain. The country is one of UAE’s largest aviation markets and even against the backdrop of the pandemic, more than 4 million passengers flew from Dubai to Indian cities in 2020.

“At present, India represents our largest market for travellers and RAK Airport aims to enhance the links between nearly 3.5 million Indian nationals living in the UAE,” said Khanna.

SpiceJet deal

In 2019, RAK Airport signed an agreement with India’s SpiceJet that established the emirate as a regional hub for the airline. “Our relationship grew through a joint initiative that saw us working together to repatriate workers and travellers from across the UAE at the height of the pandemic,” said Khanna. “These humanitarian flights showed us the potential for a stronger commercial partnership.”

Demand pattern

“RAK Airport is progressively returning to pre-COVID-19 levels of activity, although this could change at any moment,” said Khanna. “The coronavirus situation remains dynamic and difficult to predict, with reports of new strains creating uncertainty about the need for tighter restrictions.”

Although it is not easy to make any predictions regarding passenger numbers, there seems to be enough demand to go ahead with expansion plans, said the airport head.

“Demand is definitely there at the present - and it is this that encouraged us to establish our partnerships with Air Arabia, SpiceJet, Gulf Air, Scat Airlines and charter operators at the close of last year,” said Khanna.

RAK International Airport is progressively returning to pre-COVID-19 levels of activity, although this could change at any moment

- Sanjay Khanna of RAK International Airport

Tourism boost

Khanna expects the upcoming Expo to result in a “significant uptick” in passenger numbers.

“Ras Al Khaimah has an ambitious growth strategy based on diversification to include a greater focus on tourism,” said Khanna. “Economists have predicted a significant bounce as result of the pandemic finally drawing to a close. We envisage a huge array of opportunities as the travel sector opens up again.”