Adel Ali of Air Arabia
Adel Ali of Air Arabia: “India to UAE is a crucial and important market for all of us who are in aviation..." Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: The Sharjah airline Air Arabia could end up operating around 80 per cent of its network by the second-half of 2021 or early 2022, according to the CEO Adel Ali.

If “everything goes smooth, there is a possibility” of reaching that operational level, said Ali, adding that any prediction was difficult to make as the world and its peoples deal with different variants of the COVID-19 virus. “It’s all speculation based on an unknown virus,” said Ali.

Before the pandemic, Air Arabia was flying to over 170 destinations spread across the Middle East, North Africa, Asia and Europe.

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India is crucial

Prior to the suspension of flights from India to the UAE, Air Arabia would operate several short-haul flights between the two countries. As per IATA’s recent numbers, flight bookings from UAE to the Subcontinent have plunged 70 per cent since the ban was announced in April.

“India to UAE is a crucial and important market for all of us who are in aviation,” said Ali. “We are pleased to see that the (COVID) numbers in the Subcontinent continue to be on the decline every day, which is a good thing. I will hope that it will open soon.”

India and the Subcontinent are “significantly important for all the airlines in the region - and for all Indian carriers,” said Ali. “The sooner it opens with all the precautions that are required the better”

Ali said it would be difficult to provide a potential timeframe for the return of India to global aviation. “It's in the hands of the governments and authorities and more so in the hands of experts. From a business point of view, we would like to open as soon as possible.”

Hubs to the rescue

The Sharjah airline’s multiple hub concept has helped it weather the storm a little better. The carrier also operates out of Egypt and Morocco, apart from its three hubs in the UAE alone. The hubs “have helped us because one day they are closed in one area, another area opens. We’ve seen this trend going on.”

Morocco is open to international travelers starting from June 15 and Air Arabia’s routes from the country, mostly to European destinations, will do “very well.”

Bookings on the mend

“We were quite happy with the performance of the company (in) the first quarter and the forward bookings for summer looks, under the circumstances, reasonably good,” said Ali.

Je believes the resumption of events and conferences will improve confidence in UAE as a destination and increase demand for air travel. The Expo event, in particular, will lead to a “big shift in the business travel mindset,” said Ali.