Air Arabia CEO supports closed domestic airspace
Air Arabia has backed Saudi Arabia’s decision to keep its domestic airspace closed to outside operators, the CEO of the region’s largest budget carrier said, following calls for the airspace to be opened to regional carriers.
Nasser Ibrahim Al Tuwaim, secretary of Saudi Arabia’s executive council, was reported as saying that Saudi Arabian Airline’s monopoly on domestic air travel should be abolished to spur competition in the sector. “Saudi Arabia is a vast country and will not be able to meet its future passenger requirements alone,” he reasoned. “So we demand airline companies in the Gulf be allowed to operate domestic flights.”
However, Adel Ali, CEO of Air Arabia, argued that Saudi Arabia should not be picked up on this, as no other region in the world has provided international operators with access to their domestic travel market. “The freedom of the sky, from a domestic point of view, no country allows it. The Americans don’t, the British don’t... so why should Saudi Arabia be singled out?” he questioned during a recent aviation conference in Dubai.
At present, national carrier Saudi Arabian Airlines and privately-owned Nasair are the only two airlines allowed to operate domestic flights in the country, serving a population of approximately 30 million. “I think it’s very difficult for us to sit here and judge how Saudi Arabia should run its domestic affairs,” Ali continued. “We have to recognise that the Saudi government has recognised that there isn’t another method of convenient domestic transportation, so they have decided as a policy, that pricing has to be reasonable for people to fly. When you do that, you’re basically producing something for the community.”
Nasair CEO Simon Stewart, agreed with the sentiment, stating that while he welcomed increased competition, there was a lot of variability and restrictions for landing rights in various countries. “Competition is always good and competition can stimulate demand, but at this point, the government is taking an approach to nurture the aviation infrastructure in Saudi,” he explained.
Ali added that authorities in Saudi Arabia were doing things the right way in order to increase air traffic volumes.
“I have met the authorities over there and they’re very logical about it. What they say is, ‘we’re renovating, we’re improving the product of the airport, and as we do this, we’ll open [up] more’. So I am actually happy with what I’ve seen in Saudi Arabia so far,” he concluded.