Gulf low-fares start-up Air Arabia will begin flying at the end of October with two leased Airbus A320s, and has ambitious expansion plans as it brings budget services to the region for the first time.

The airline, based at Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), hopes to operate up to 14 A320s within five years (Flight International, 19-25 August). Air Arabia, owned by the Sharjah government, is the UAE's third airline, after Dubai's Emirates and Gulf Air, which is one-third owned by Abu Dhabi.

Air Arabia chief executive Adel Ali concedes that the region has too many airlines, but says the carrier is targeting a different market sector to the others. "We are aiming...for the 85% of people in the region who don't fly because it's too expensive," he says. The A320s, leased from International Lease Finance (ILFC), will be configured with 150 economy seats, and passengers will be charged for refreshments.

The initial A320s will be replaced by new aircraft in February also leased from ILFC, and two more will be added next year. A further two are due in 2005, with subsequent expansion depending on performance. Air Arabia will begin by serving Arab destinations with open skies agreements such as Bahrain; Beirut, Lebanon; Doha, Qatar; Kuwait and Muscat, Oman. Later the airline hopes to get approval to fly to Egypt, India, Saudi Arabia and Syria, but says countries might block it to protect their national airlines.

Source: Flight International