Interview: Ghaith Al Ghaith, flydubai CEO

Dubai's low-cost carrier is celebrating its second anniversary.


Hailed as the fastest growing start-up airline in history, it’s hardly a surprise that flydubai’s second anniversary of operations is a matter of pride for CEO Ghaith Al Ghaith. Celebrations have been taking place across the world in honour of the special milestone, and despite a tiring schedule of media interviews, Al Ghaith never loses his passion while talking about the low-cost carrier’s rise over the past couple of years.

“Our first flight on 1st June 2009 was a wonderful and exciting time, although I never imagined that two years later, we would have reached our current position in the market,” he beams. “There was a bold strategy to expand as quickly as possible, adding aircraft and destinations at a rapid pace to ensure we reached a critical mass in the shortest time possible. Today, we have 17 aircraft, with our latest Boeing 737-800 NG delivered in June this year, while our network has increased to 43 destinations. This makes us the fastest growing start-up airline in history and proves that Dubai is a great place to do business.”

The excitement on board that first flight, which departed for Beirut with 189 passengers, was indicative of a commitment by the government of Dubai to make travel easier, more accessible and more affordable to passengers. It’s a gesture that has been welcomed with open arms in the market and since that time, flydubai has experienced a 200% increase in passengers, 78% increase in flight numbers, 150% increase in routes and 100% increase in aircraft. As a result, it has emerged as the second largest carrier operating out of Dubai International Airport, although Al Ghaith admits that a number of challenges had to be overcome along the way.

“One of the biggest challenges for a new company is dealing with rapid expansion while ensuring the systems, procedures and staff are all in place to maintain a consistent level of service,” he states. “However, we achieved that at flydubai and a whole lot more, even though we started at a difficult time for the aviation industry. If anything, the airline has embraced challenges by bringing maintenance programmes and engineering in-house, while developing systems, training and procedures that make the government’s vision work in practice.”

With a solid focus on route expansion, destinations such as Damman, Riyadh and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia have already been added to flydubai’s network this year, in addition to Hyderabad in India, Addis Ababa in Ethiopia and Sohag in Egypt. Flights to the Russian cities of Kazan and Ufa, as well as the Ukraine destinations of Kiev, Kharkiv and Donetsk are next on the list, with operations due to commence in September 2011. “Nobody can claim our growth has slowed down,” Al Ghaith laughs. “If you look at the difference between our available seats per kilometre (ASK) in June 2010 and May 2011, the increase is 161% in total, while revenue per kilometre (RPK) is 181% higher. Not only are these huge increases, but they show that the airline is working smartly and ensuring that revenue is being generated. Even our on-time performance is one of the best in the industry at 85%.”

Judging by the excitement on Al Ghaith’s face, it appears the relentless pace of growth will continue for many years to come. In addition to the new routes that have been earmarked for the second half of 2011, aircraft deliveries will continue to flow from an order of 50 Boeing 737-800 NGs, the last of which will be handed over in 2016. In tandem with its expanding fleet, the low-cost carrier has also launched a recruitment drive for 600 new pilots to steer its upcoming aircraft over the next five years.

Thankfully, with 1100 employees already in place across the operation – including 240 pilots - flydubai attracts an average of 80 applications for every position, so finding more pilots should not be too troublesome. To support its external recruitment, an in-house captain upgrade scheme has also been implemented. “Since the scheme started last year, we have had 15 first officers successfully upgrade to captains, with more completing the programme every month,” says Al Ghaith. “Through this, we want to take the best pilots from around the world and turn them into the best flydubai pilots.”

As the Dubai Airshow fast approaches, it’s safe to assume that flydubai will continue its anniversary celebrations at the much-awaited trade event in November. If that’s the case, visitors can expect the festivities to adopt a team focus, as Al Ghaith is keen to ensure his staff are rightfully acknowledged for their hard work and dedication.

“From the very beginning, we knew there was a place for us in the market and we understood that hard work was needed to make that place our own. Clearly the strategy we adopted has paid off and the entire team should be congratulated for ensuring that flydubai successfully reached this point,” he concludes. “I’m proud that two years into our operations, we are right on track. The airline has benefited from aggressive growth, surmounted all obstacles and made it work. Looking ahead, flydubai is well placed to forge even further ahead with various new innovations and I am confident 2011 will be another great year.”

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