Air Arabia stands by orders, sees potential in Pakistan venture

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Air Arabia PJSC plans to keep its schedule for Airbus SE jetliner deliveries unchanged as the discount carrier’s network of bases spread around the Middle East, North Africa and into Asia helps sustain demand.

The airline, based in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, reached the conclusion after reassessing its need for 120 A320neo jets -- double the current fleet -- ordered months before the coronavirus shattered demand for global travel, Chief Executive Officer Adel Abdullah Al Ali said in an interview Sunday.

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“When we did the order in 2019 we agreed to take delivery starting in 2024, and when the pandemic came we looked at everything and decided to keep the deliveries as they are, Al Ali said at the Dubai Airshow. “So we’re not delaying or postponing anything.

The carrier is currently talking with both General Electric Co.’s CFM venture and Pratt & Whitney, the rival engine providers for the A320neo, he said.

Air Arabia is focused on building up its joint venture with Etihad Airways in Abu Dhabi, which was launched at the height of the pandemic, and sees “fantastic growth there, Al Ali said. A second startup, new Armenian flag-carrier Fly Arna, is also up and running, while a third in Pakistan will take up some of the new planes and could become a significant force.

Large target

“You have a 200 million population, a big domestic market and a big international market, he said. “It’s potentially going to be a large airline.

The discount carrier filled 70% of seats in the third quarter, posting net income of 209 million dirhams ($57 million). Three-quarters of the fleet is back in operation, with the rest to follow by March. The CEO said the group’s wide spread of bases helped it cope with disruption from the virus.

“One place was shutting down and another was opening, he said. “When we were totally closed in the UAE our business was doing very well in Morocco. Egypt has been good for us from Abu Dhabi and even places like Oman.

Long-range A321 XLR planes that are part of the Airbus order will provide extra seats where needed and open up further flung cities such as Kuala Lumpur, Prague and Vienna, Al Ali said.

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