Egypt's Nile Air to double fleet this year

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Nile Air will lease two more Airbus A320s this year as the privately-owned carrier benefits from warming relations between Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

"Our plan is to grow from two aircraft to four aircraft in 2014, to double our fleet," chief executive Ahmed Aly tells Flightglobal. "We're hoping to secure the third lease in the next couple of months, just in time for the start of the busy summer season."

The carrier operates scheduled flights from three points in Egypt to five Saudi destinations plus Kuwait. It added flights from Cairo to Jeddah earlier this month.

"Following the change that occurred last summer [when Egypt's military wrested power from the Muslim Brotherhood party], there's now been stronger political links between Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Egypt," Aly explains. "That's been reflected straight away in our numbers, and when we look at forward bookings over the summer we're seeing much stronger volumes coming out of Saudi Arabia."

Nile Air is wholly-owned by Nasser Al Tayyar, chairman of the Riyadh-based travel firm Al Tayyar Travel Group. Saudi Arabia's ruling family had been among the strongest critics of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, straining relations between the two countries in 2012 and 2013.

Aly says the two upcoming A320s will be leased for a minimum of five years, though Nile Air wants the flexibility to adjust contract periods. Its MoU for nine A321s – signed at the 2007 Dubai Air Show – is subject to ongoing contractural negotiations with Airbus.

Nile Air grew passenger numbers by 21% last year after halving the size of its Business Class cabins, with load factors inching up to 72%. The airline's traffic composition is spread between Gulf-origin tourists, business people, VFR and religious traffic, making it "extremely resilient to the current changing landscape in Egypt". By contrast, flag carrier EgyptAir has been heavily exposed to the downturn in tourism from Europe.

Nonetheless, Aly sees European countries with large Egyptian populations as viable destinations for Nile Air, singling out Turkey, Italy and the UK. Closer to home, Libya, Sudan and the UAE are also being evaluated. New flights from Luxor to Kuwait will begin this summer.