By David Kaminski-Morrow in London

Saudi Arabian premium operator National Air Services has approached UK budget carrier EasyJet with a view to using the airline’s brand under a franchise agreement in the Middle East.

National Air Services – which is based in Jeddah, and declared its intention last year to set up a low-fare airline – has made a joint approach to EasyJet with Dubai-based private equity firm Abraaj Captial.

EasyJet says that it is “evaluating” the opportunity to franchise its brand to the Gulf region but does not expect a decision on the matter before early next year.

“The decision on whether to progress with this opportunity, which will not involve EasyJet investing any equity or cash, will be made in conjunction with National Air Services,” says EasyJet.

It points out that this decision will depend on licensing issues facing National Air Services as well as the need for any arrangement to satisfy EasyJet’s demands – including the delivery of “significant” shareholder value.

National Air Services has already established an all-premium carrier, Al-Khayala, which operates a fleet of Airbus narrowbody aircraft. But at the Dubai Air Show last November the company stated that it planned to set up a budget airline this year initially to serve domestic routes.

Few budget carriers have been established in the Middle East region; notable exceptions include Sharjah-based Air Arabia and Kuwait’s Jazeera Airways. But the Saudi Arabian market is gradually becoming more liberalised and has already seen the emergence of low-fare airline Sama.

Abraaj Capital’s interests in the aviation sector have included the acquisition last year of a majority share in Jordan Aircraft Maintenance.

Source: Flight International