Air Arabia chief calls for open skies across Middle East

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Air Arabia chief executive Adel Ali has made an impassioned call for open skies across the Middle East, arguing that opening airports to overseas airlines brings in business and creates jobs.

Speaking at MRO Middle East in Dubai, Ali said restricting access to slots in order to protect a national carrier was a fallacy. Experience showed that ending restrictions on competition invariably created more jobs than were lost at a flag-carrier struggling with the new competition.

"We have seen this in Egypt, Syria and Jordan," says Ali, noting that all three countries had recently relaxed restrictions at their airports. "Until 18 months ago you were tortured at [Jordanian capital] Amman. We were being offered a 3am slot or nothing. Then they opened up the airport and traffic has grown by 17%," he says.

"It's like a shop. If you are open, the customer walks in. If you close it then don't expect to do business."

He also notes the example of Sharjah airport, Air Arabia's base. When the airline was founded seven years ago, says Ali, the airport employed 200 people. "There were two broken down taxis outside and the immigration guys slept at night because the airport didn't operate. Now 10,000 people work at the airport, it is full of shops and there is a fleet of taxis at the door."

Ali is calling for governments to implement an open skies policy across the whole Arab world as soon as possible. "If this could get implemented, it would be fantastic for the region," he says.

However, he has harsh words for the MRO community: "Maintenance costs are too high. It is an expensive business. We constantly have to look at how we can reduce the cost."