Gaith Al Gaith Image Credit: Atiq ur Rehman/Gulf news

Dubai: Flydubai said it was “definitely in the market for more aircraft”, as the low-cost carrier charts its plans for growth, which include expansion in Russia, Africa, and Europe.

Gaith Al Gaith, flydubai’s chief executive officer, is already looking at how it will expand its fleet beyond 2023, when the carrier will have a fleet of 100 aircraft.

“We look at the [Boeing] 737, so that’s 738-800, 900, and 1000, and we also look at the 320 and 321 Neos, so these are the two types of aircraft that we are always looking to expand using. We are not close to deal, so that’s why we’re not announcing anything at this air show, but we continuously look,” he said in an interview with Gulf News.

Asked about flydubai’s fleet size after 2023, Al Gaith said it will “definitely be bigger,” but did not provide more details.

Financially speaking, the carrier is considering multiple options to finance its new aircraft. Flydubai last tapped the bond market over two years ago for sukuk (Islamic bonds) worth $500 million, and Al Gaith said the carrier would consider issuing bonds again.

“We already have bonds. We can have more bonds, for example. We can finance [aircraft] straight forward from a bank, and we can do a sell and leaseback, so the instruments available to us are many, and we usually decide closer to the date on what’s most attractive,” he said.

In late August, flydubai reported Dh142.5 million in losses for the first half of 2017, with the figure widening from the Dh89.9 million in losses recorded in the same half of 2016.

Al Gaith said the carrier has consistently had weaker first halves of the year compared to their second halves as the summer season, which is when passenger traffic peaks.

In the first half of 2017, the carrier’s costs were also higher, Al Gaith pointed, due to new aircraft. He expected to record profits for the full year 2017, however, even as he pointed persisting challenges in the industry.

“Yes, there is pressure on yields but you have to grow in other places where there is less pressure. Fuel prices are much lower, so because of that, there’s pressure and people are not spending as much, so that’s why there’s pressure on yields, but we still see growth in the number of passengers and on load factors. [Going forward], I think the environment will still be the same for a while,” Al Gaith said.

From an operational perspective, flydubai is planning to launch new routes and expand its network.

“Of course, Russia for us is going to be big, considering the market is big and we have the [easing of the] visa, so it’s become very attractive as a tourist destination. We launched two new destinations in Russia in the past month or so, and we are adding a flight to another airport in Moscow. We’ll have some more flights into Africa, probably some more flights into Europe that we will announce in the near future,” the CEO said.

The new routes to Europe will mainly be to the eastern side of the continent where flydubai already operates.