Dubai: Saudi budget airline flyadeal has chalked out major expansion plans and that includes having 15-20 international routes by the end of 2022.
The new flights will “start forming not an insignificant part of our total operations by the end of 2022 - we’re embarking on that journey,” said CEO Con Korfiatis, during an interview with CAPA (Center for Aviation).
Flyadeal, which is a sister concern of the Kingdom’s flagship carrier Saudia, recently launched flights connecting Riyadh and to Dubai. “About three weeks ago, we started flights between Riyadh and Kuwait - it’s still really a drop in the ocean relative to where we’re going,” he added.
Riyadh and Jeddah are among the top destinations from Dubai International (DXB) airport, with 115 and 95 weekly flights, respectively, according to Flightradar24.
The Saudi airline’s route expansion strategy will be supported by a steady flow of new aircraft deliveries. Korfiatis said the fleet will grow by 80 per cent by the end of 2022 compared to 2021. As of January 2020, flyadeal had 14 aircraft in its fleet.
“It is something we have really been anticipating given the effort we’ve put into improving the passenger comfort on board” While the emphasis is back on flying to international markets, flyadeal is primarily an operator in the Saudi domestic market.
“We kind of lived in a bubble because of that,” said Korfiatis. “We have been flying all our aircraft pretty much since the third month of our return to flying in 2020 and our seat factors have been in the 80s the whole time.”
He said that the airline’s load factors suffered a tumble when Saudi Arabia lifted restrictions on domestic flight capacity in September. “Since then, moving into October and November, It’s improving and not far off from what it was before.”
With countries relaxing COVID-19 norms and resuming flights, airlines were seeing their numbers pick up dramatically. However, the Omicron variant has cast some doubts over the industry’s prospects.
“Airlines more exposed to international and medium-haul routes are finding it a bit tougher - but it depends on the market,” said Korfiatis. “Some markets are doing okay, while some markets haven’t moved much at all, particularly if you look towards the Far East.”
Airlines that operate ultra-long haul routes are still struggling, said the CEO. “The yields and loads aren’t what they used to be (and) a lot of the long-haul markets are last to come back.”
Airline heads have insisted in the past that more than safety concerns, the uncertainty around Covid restrictions have stifled passenger traffic. “When the confidence comes back, people come back to travel, and that’s probably something the industry is unilaterally united on,” said Korfiatis. “I don’t think it’s a case where we have fundamentally changed our attitudes towards travel. When things are normal, people travel and we have clearly seen that to be the case during 2021.”