Ghaith Al Ghaith
flydubai CEO Ghaith Al Ghaith is confident that Dubai will continue to see a massive influx of tourists in 2023. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Dubai carrier flydubai has grown 80 per cent bigger than it was prior to the pandemic, said airline CEO Ghaith Al Ghaith. After operating 1,290 flights between Dubai and Doha during the month-long Fifa World Cup and seeing an exceptional performance during Expo 2020, the CEO said he is confident the airline will be able to sustain the same levels of air travel demand in 2023 as well.

The carrier enabled more than 130,000 football fans to travel conveniently to Doha for the games. In the first quarter of this year, flydubai operated 19,000 flights between January 1 and March 31, carrying 2.35 million passengers.

Video: Clint Egbert | Editing: Irish Belleza | Reporting Dhanusha Gokulan

That being said, mega events being organised in the region are not the only reason for flydubai returning to profit post-pandemic, according to Al Ghaith. He said the sustainable commercial activities after the region’s exposure during these mega events bring in tourists and business investment. “It is not just about one event. The ‘shine’ of Expo 2020 will be felt later on, especially for a regional airline like us.”

“Dubai is a standalone destination for tourism, commerce, and business. Moreover, with the residency visa options the UAE government offers, the number of people who want to reside in the country has also risen. More and more people now want to retire in the emirate, which brings a more sustainable business than the events itself,” he added.

“In terms of the contribution towards the airline’s bottom line and financial gain, it was negligible. That being said, we did make some profits,” added the CEO. The airline is yet to announce its fourth quarter financial results.

‘The best World Cup ever’

As far as the Fifa World Cup is concerned, Al Ghaith said the Doha event was the most successful one ever organised. “The event exposed the whole region. And we know that everything that happens in the region helps us, and we become stronger.”

Commenting on the mix of tourists and residents who used the shuttle service, Ghaith said that 60 to 70 per cent of the flydubai passengers were international tourists during the group stage matches. “But by the second half of the games, about 50 per cent of the travellers were UAE residents. It could’ve been because they did away with the Hayya card,” he added.

The CEO said flydubai was the only regional airline apart from Qatar Airways to operate at this magnitude. “I’ve never seen so many flights operated by one carrier to one point in the GCC or our region ever,” he said. “We were the only carrier which had a link with Qatar’s Hayya system, which enabled us to have information about the passenger 48 hours before the flight. At least 75 per cent of our passengers were pre-approved, making it a seamless experience,” he added.

While the airline’s initial load factors were at a conservative 50 per cent, flydubai achieved close to 60 per cent load factors later.

Regarding logistical challenges, the carrier suffered delays of only two minutes on flights to Doha.

More tourists will come to UAE in 2023

While there are no mega events the size of the FIFA World Cup or Dubai Expo 2020 in the region’s event calendar for 2023 (except COP28), Al Ghaith is confident that Dubai will continue to see a massive influx of tourists in 2023. Dubai welcomed 11.4 million international overnight visitors between January and October, only 5.3 million less than in 2019 when 16.7 million visited the emirate.

flydubai has recently announced the launch of operations to seven new routes in 2023, including flights to Cagliari in Sardinia, Corfu in Greece, Gan in the Maldives, Krabi and Pattaya in Thailand, Milan Bergamo in Italy and St Petersburg in Russia.

The airline operates to 114 international destinations in 53 countries served by a fleet of 71 Boeing 737 aircraft and has increased its workforce by 1,500 new employees since the start of 2022. Today, a total of 4,650 employees work for the airline. In anticipation of the growth in travel appetite, the airline also plans to organise recruitment drives next year.

World Cup report card

flydubai’s shuttle flights between Dubai and Doha: 1,290

Number of fans carried: 130,000

Period during which the shuttle flights operated: November 21 and December 19

Number of shuttle flights daily: 30

Peak travel frequency: One flight every 30 minutes

Aircraft deployed: Seven Boeing 737s

Number of nationalities the passengers belonged to: 171

Top 10 nationalities: UK, India, UAE, France, Argentina, US, Morocco, Jordan, Canada and Brazil (they made up to 60 per cent of the overall number of passengers on these shuttle flights)