Dubai: As UAE turns 50, it is worth mentioning one of the major milestones in Dubai’s aviation history – the launch of flydubai in March, 2008. A much younger airline, when compared to Emirates and Etihad, flydubai has become regionally and globally important in the industry in a little over 13 years.
Started by the Dubai government as a low-cost alternative to flagship carrier Emirates, it wasn’t long before flydubai sprang into action by placing an order for 50 Boeing 737-800 NG aircraft at the Farnborough Airshow – a closely-followed exhibition for the aerospace and defence sectors.
After receiving its first aircraft the next year, flydubai operated its inaugural commercial flight to Lebanon’s capital Beirut on June 1, 2009. In the following few weeks, the airline began operating flights to Amman, Damascus, and Alexandria.
After just three months from its launch, flydubai had already flown 100,000 passengers on its routes – a huge achievement for a fairly new airline.
As more aircraft were delivered, flydubai increased the number of routes, flying daily to cities across the GCC, Middle East, North Africa, Indian Subcontinent, Asia and Central and Eastern Europe.
By the end of 2009, flydubai had already added another 7 routes; a year later, the carrier flew its one millionth passenger. In 2018, flydubai was operating more than 1,400 flights a week with over 500 pilots and 1,000 cabin crew.
Experience and budget-friendly options
As for the onboard experience with flydubai, as is characteristic for most low-budget airlines, there is no First Class seating. However, there are Business Class seats available which boast extra legroom, in-flight entertainment, refreshment menu, Business Lounge access in Dubai, and other benefits.
Passengers with Economy seats can bid to upgrade their tickets to Business Class up to 10 hours prior to travelling to Dubai, or up to 18 hours before departure for other destinations. With a slight difference in standard fare flydubai also offers Economy flyers seats with extra leg room.
Flydubai’s real test came in 2019 when aviation regulators, including UAE’s GCAA, grounded Boeing’s 737 MAX aircraft after two fatal crashes involving the airplane killed 346 people. It was later found the pilots of both jets were unable to control them shortly after takeoff due to a flawed flight control system.
Flydubai, one of the world’s largest MAX customers, was hit particularly hard. Although the ban on the aircraft was lifted late last year, the carrier recently went ahead with an agreement to cut the number of 737 MAX aircraft it will take delivery of by 65.
The move came after the airline conducted a review of its fleet plans following the COVID-19 pandemic and the “changing dynamic of the airline’s route structure.”
Bringing pilots back
Flydubai had previously 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.
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 Ghaith Al Ghaith, flydubai's CEO during an event.
For many industry watchers, the highlight of the pandemic has been the growing relationship between Emirates and flydubai. The Dubai-based airlines revived their codeshare partnership in September 2020 and have a combined network of 168 destinations.
This also led to speculation that both brands were now one for all operational purposes. “We can still work together and keep two successful airlines in the region,” said Al Ghaith, during an event.
COVID-19 hit and impact
flydubai reported a loss of Dh712.6 million for the period ending December 31, 2020. The airline, which carried 3.2 million passengers last year, said its total annual revenue fell nearly 53 per cent to Dh2.8 billion in 2020, compared to the same period a year earlier.
“The effects of the travel restrictions that were put in place to safeguard against transmission of the virus have heavily impacted the aviation industry,” said Al Ghaith in a statement from last year.
However, in terms of recovery, flydubai management remains optimistic. Speaking during the World Sustainable Business Forum, a closed-door event organised by Gulf News and IFIICC in July, Al Ghaith said, "We tried to adjust our schedule to ensure that we put as many flights as possible (on routes) where there is actual demand.“
"As recent as before the summer, we were already at 65 per cent of pre-COVID numbers in terms of operation, which is incredible.”
In 2021, flydubai was also recognised as the 'Best Low-Cost airline serving the Middle East' at this year’s Business Traveller Middle East Awards.
In line with the new travel requirements of the industry, flydubai partnered with Alhosn, UAE’s official app for contact tracing and health testing related to COVID-19, to provide passengers with digital verification of COVID-19 medical records while travelling from the UAE. It was the first airline to partner with Alhosn to offer this service to its passengers.