Interview: Alex de Vos, Fujairah's Eastern Express
With flights commencing from Fujairah Airport in the first quarter of 2012, Eastern Express will bring something new to Middle East aviation, explains CEO Alex de Vos.
When did the groundwork first commence for Eastern Express?
It’s been over two years since Eastern Express was first conceptualised. At that time, I was working for a Bahrain aviation consultancy, which was contacted to submit its recommendations on how Fujairah Airport could transform its primary focus from cargo to passenger operations. The typical suggestion would be operating an Airbus A320 into countries such as Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. However, this has already been done to such an extent in the GCC that replicating the model would not make sense. Instead, we proposed the launch of a regional carrier, which is a fresher concept. Our business plan received such a positive response that the team moved to the UAE, so we could launch the venture ourselves.
What are the main aspects of your business plan for Eastern Express?
A three-fold approach has been adopted. For starters, Fujairah is developing into a leading tourism destination, with beautiful surroundings and luxurious hotels. Visitor numbers are growing and we want to capitalise on that tourism momentum. Secondly, there are limited options for business travellers that need to be connected with Fujairah, so that’s another market we are targeting. And finally, we will pioneer the feeder airline concept, which has never been attempted in the GCC before.
How will Eastern Express attract tourism and business passengers?
During the first quarter of 2012, Eastern Express will commence double daily flights linking Fujairah to the world through Abu Dhabi initially and later through other GCC destinations, such as Bahrain. Tickets will be reasonably priced as the financial requirements for our operations are relatively low. However, we are not a low-cost carrier and will provide full-flight services.
How does the ‘feeder airline’ business model actually work?
In a nutshell, we will partner with an existing airline in the GCC and provide them with regional passenger traffic from the UAE east coast. At the moment, no passenger services are offered at Fujairah airport , so people are driving to Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Sharjah for flights. With our service, they pay a small premium to travel straight from here, meaning baggage can be dropped at Fujairah and collected at the final destination. Plus, Fujairah airport is modern but heavily underused, so the waiting time is next-to-nothing. Connections are then available to other destinations through our airline partner, who will be named at a later date. Since we are providing extra revenue for the airline, part of that will come back to our books.
What type of passenger aircraft will be operated by Eastern Express?
We are looking at turboprops with the capacity for around 30-50 passengers. There is a perception in the GCC that turboprops are old-fashioned, but that’s not the case, they are fuel efficient on short routes. In fact, more and more of them are being introduced in the region and we will build on that momentum. At the moment, we are talking to a couple of manufacturers and a final announcement should be made at this month’s Dubai Airshow.