Middle East low-fare start-up MenaJet is confident it will be ready to start operations in April, after having delayed its launch from this year. Meanwhile, one of the region's established full-service carriers has cast doubts over the likely success of low-cost carriers in the region.

MenaJet, which is capitalised at $50 million, is a 50:50 joint venture between Bahrain-based Gulf Finance House and Saudi industrial conglomerate Al Zamil Group. It had been aiming to launch operations by the end of 2003 from Sharjah International airport with two 162-seat Airbus A320s.

MenaJet general manager Mazen Hajjar says the airline has now sourced two new International Aero Engines V2500-powered A320s, which it will use to launch services in April from Sharjah. "We plan to have a multi-base network throughout the region," he says, adding that the airline has already sketched out its expansion plan. The airline is believed to be eyeing another major Middle Eastern city for its initial base.

Hajjar says that the airline will have around 150 personnel by the time it launches. In October, former EasyJet director Keith McMann was recruited to help implement MenaJet's low-fare strategy.

Although MenaJet will become the region's second low-cost carrier after Sharjah-based Air Arabia, some remain unconvinced that the budget market will work in the Middle East: "This area isn't ready to take low-cost carriers," says Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker.

Citing the capacity restrictions enforced on operators by the region's strict bilateral arrangements and the lack of secondary airports that have helped Europe's low-cost carriers to expand, he says that if such a carrier could be created then "Qatar Airways would have launched one before everybody else".

Hajjar rejects the airport issue: "EasyJet has demonstrated that you can run a low-fare model out of primary airports," he says.

Source: Flight International