By Helen Massy-Beresford in Jeddah
UK full service carrier BMI is considering adding a third Saudi Arabian destination – Damman - from as early as next year, according to chief executive Nigel Turner.
Speaking as the UK-based airline launched its London Heathrow to Jeddah route, Turner explained that the company is currently considering the Damman route and is “looking at the figures"; the earliest start date would be the [Northern Hemisphere] spring".
He expects a decision on whether to operate flights to Damman – capital of Saudi Arabia’s al-Hasa eastern province and a key destination for business travellers involved in the kingdom’s oil industry – to be made within six months, subject to relaxation of the UK-Saudi bilateral air services agreement. Turner says the route would suit a narrowbody aircraft.
The company is also looking at the wider Middle East region: “now we’re here our appetite has been whetted for the region – we are actively studying what other markets there are in this region.”
Turner is confident that BMI’s previous experience in dealing with the Saudi Arabian authorities when setting up routes to Riyadh, which began operating last September, and Jeddah, will mean the process of setting up a London-Damman route easier.
Meanwhile, Turner says the 767-300 currently operating the three times weekly London-Jeddah route “will be upgraded to at least an A330-200 by no later than March next year. The airline could consider a larger A330 type depending on what is available at the time, and how demand for the route progresses. “We are not in any specific negotiations but we are in the market looking.”
The London-Jeddah route could also increase in frequency, subject to demand: “there’s no reason why ultimately it shouldn’t go daily if the bilateral is relaxed a bit,” Turner says.
BMI is also likely to begin daily flights to Moscow as early as November. The company would operate A320 family aircraft that already belong to its fleet on the route. BMI is “moving towards a positive conclusion” on the route, he says. And longer-term, Turner confirms “we are looking at Indian destinations.” The airline already operates flights to Mumbai.
Read Helen Massy-Beresford's view on how the Saudi campaign to lure tourists to the kingdom may have conflicts with the country's strict Islamic code
or read Justin Wastnage's look at camel racing in the Saudi desert from a previous BMI press trip