File picture of Ghaith Al Ghaith, CEO of flydubai. "We can still work together and keep two successful airlines in the region," the CEO said in response to a query about a possible merger with its Dubai peer. Image Credit: Gulf News

Dubai: Budget airline flydubai is flying at 65 per cent of its pre-COVID-19 capacity prior to the closure of crucial source markets India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal, according to the CEO Ghaith Al Ghaith.

“We were doing very well because we were achieving a load factor of 73 per cent (last year),” said Al Ghaith. “We did not operate any flight without covering our costs - because that would be murder.” The airline chief said he was optimistic about summer - “The biggest question would be: which country will be open?”

Unpaid leave

Flydubai said all its employees on unpaid leave have been asked to join back from June onwards.

The carrier had given its employees the option to go on unpaid leave or take a redundancy scheme. “And 97 per cent  of the people (who were approached) chose to take the unpaid leave – it was a commitment from the people that they wanted to stick with the airline,” said Al Ghaith.

Government participation

To chart the airline industry’s path forward, UAE’s regulators worked closely with the country’s airlines. “We were involved in the decision making from day one,” said Al Ghaith. “No decision was made without consulting, without going through a process. We have a process… where there are three different stages, and we are represented in each of these levels.”

The discussions ranged from ground handling staff to aviation regulations, said Al Ghaith. flydubai has begun flying its Boeing 737MAX aircraft after getting the green light from UAE’s aviation regulator earlier this year.

The process of getting there was tough for flydubai. "We have to thank the authority that they did not compromise - they did not cut corners,” said Al Ghaith.

flydubai and larger peer Emirates – with a codeshare agreement already in place - have announced that they would work more closely going forward, causing industry participants to speculate about a possible merger. Al Ghaith said people were quick to ask questions like 'Is it going to be one airline?'

“We can still work together and keep two successful airlines in the region.”