Analysis: Flydubai – Mid East’s Rising Star

31 destinations in 18 months is no mean feat. But there’s one LCC that did it successfully. Flydubai. What does the future hold for them ? Let’s find out.

Having launched on 1st June 2009, flydubai ( IATA: FZ ) currently has 31 destinations available for booking, with a network that ranges from Yerevan to Chittagong. Flydubai’s 31st destination, Chittagong, will come online on 17th Jan.

Flydubai Route Map

Flydubai placed an order for fifty 737-800s at the 2008 Farnborough Air Show, and leased an extra four from Babcock & Brown to launch operations. The airline launched its operations with a first flight to Beirut ( BEY ), and has since grown tremendously.

The Network

Flydubai’s network consists of mostly regional destinations that are within five hours of reach from its hub in Dubai. With a network that largely consists of Persian Gulf, Middle East and the Indian subcontinent, the young LCC has dared to go to places that most other airlines will not.

Destination Weekly Frequency
Abha, AHB 7
Aleppo, ALP 4
Alexandria, HBE 13
Amman, AMM 7
Ashgabat, ASB 2
Assiut, ATZ 3
Bahrain, BAH 17
Baku, GYD 7
Beirut, BEY 19
Chittagong, CGP 4 ( eff. 17 Jan )
Colombo, CMB 4
Damascus, DAM 11
Djibouti, JIB 3
Doha, DOH 35
Erbil, EBL 4
Gassim, ELQ 3
Istanbul, SAW 4
Kabul, KBL 7
Karachi, KHI 7
Katmandu, KTM 7
Khartoum, KRT 9 ( 10, eff 22 Feb )
Kuwait, KWI 25
Latakia, LTK 3
Lucknow, LKO 3
Luxor, LXR 3
Muscat, MCT 16
Samara, KUF 3
Sulaimaniyah, ISU 2
Yanbu, YNB 6
Yekaterinburg, SVX 2
Yerevan, EVN 3

Frequencies valid till end of Winter from January 2011.

Of these destinations, most are ones that never had any major carriers to serve them and were hindered from connectivity. At six of them – namely, Ashgabat, Djibouti, Erbil, Gassim, Samara and Yanbu – flydubai is still the only active LCC.

At eleven of its destination airports, flydubai’s network overlaps with that of its big brother, Emirates. The airports are Alexandria, Amman, Bahrain, Beirut, Colombo, Damascus, Doha, Karachi, Khartoum, Kuwait and Muscat. The count goes up to twelve if you include the city of Istanbul, where flydubai serves the new, largely LCC, Sabiha Gökçen International Airport and Emirates serves the established Atatürk International in the European side of the city.

Flydubai has a lot in common with Emirates, from which it gets its current CEO Ghaith Al Ghaith. Emirates and flydubai provide connection opportunities to select destinations in its network. The two shares a common owner, Chairman and also some aspects such as catering, but that’s where the cooperation ends, says the CEO.

Rather than cannibalizing each other, it is reported that on most routes, flydubai’s entry has helped grow the market. An example given by the carrier is the Dubai – Amman route that grew 40% with flydubai’s entry.

The Internet, The Ancillary and The Challenges

The Middle East currently has less than a 10% share of the market in LCC hands. Ghaith would like to see this figure go up to as much as 35% as in Europe, and believes that this can be done. But this is not without challenges of its own. The traditional Mid Eastern social landscape is low on internet and credit card penetration, and is far more lower among females – hence the carrier cannot rely on internet distribution like its European counterparts. Hence flydubai is having to recruit a network of distributors and travel agents, with partners ranging from post offices to currency exchanges. If that’s not enough, flydubai is also having to compete with the red tape traditional to these parts of the world. This is especially high in India, where Emirates is the largest foreign carrier thus triggering backlash from both the competition and the government. Flydubai has still managed to serve only Lucknow in India, after one previous failed attempt.

Although the carrier is yet to publish any financial data, it can be expected that flydubai may not achieve as high an ancillary revenue as its continental counterparts, due to the same social reasons. But the carrier says that its passengers are happy with the unbundled approach and offers an incentives program to its crew for onboard sales.

Most of the airports in flydubai’s network, including developing nations, are naturally high of travellers with heavy baggage. Perhaps reflecting this tough landscape, flydubai recently reduced its free baggage allowance from 10kg to a more moderate 7kg per passenger. The airline also revised its excess baggage fees, and has introduced three new, more simpler fare types – consisting of No Change, Pay to Change and Free to Change.

The Future


Photo by Andrew W. Sieber

Flydubai is due to receive ten 737-800s in 2011 and the airline has signalled that it will launch less new routes in the year and instead look at consolidating its network. With more underserved, regional and secondary destinations added to its network, flydubai seems to be pursuing a strategy of tapping untapped markets and complimenting its big brother’s network for its hometown’s success. The airline, like Emirates, has made some remarkable moves on the IFE front, by introducing the fibre-to-the-seat Lumexis IFE, which will come pre-installed on its future aircraft. Unlike many other LCCs, flydubai actively promotes connecting traffic – a key cornerstone of its hub’s strategy – and has even partnered with fare search engine dohop to provide a lowest-fare-finder service. This connecting traffic is sure set to become a larger part of the carrier’s network as it matures. With all the new experiments, and tremendous growth, the future sure looks interesting for young flydubai.

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