Adel Ali, group CEO of Air Arabia, one of the Middle East's low-cost pioneers, has made an impassioned call for open skies in the region, saying opening airports to overseas airlines brings in business and creates jobs.

Speaking at MRO Middle East, Ali said restricting access to slots to protect a national carrier was a fallacy. Experience showed that ending restrictions on competiton 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," said 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 said. "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 noted the example of Sharjah airport, Air Arabia's base. When the airline was founded seven years ago, said 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."

He called for governments to implement an open-skies policy in the whole Arab world as soon as possible. "If this could get implemented, it would be fantastic for the region," he said.

Ali, however, had harsh words for the MRO community, which made up the bulk of his audience. "Maintenance costs are too high. It is an expensive business. We constantly have to look at how we can reduce the cost."

Source: Flight International