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First Kuwait private airline is cleared for take-off

Al-Jazeera Airways gets government approval after Gulf domestic aviation opened up

Kuwait's first private airline, Al-Jazeera Airways, has received government approval to launch operations, although the carrier is expected to initially base its operations outside the country.

The move follows the decision last year to deregulate the country's domestic aviation sector by allowing the formation of private passenger and cargo airlines. Approval is expected to be given shortly to two other such ventures.

The airline, which takes its name from the Arabic word for "peninsula" or "island", is said to be backed by a group of Kuwaiti businessmen and members of Kuwait's ruling Sabah family, who will have a 30% stake in the new venture, with the remainder held by the private sector. No details have yet been released about their plans for the new carrier.

Initial indications are that, while Al-Jazeera Airways will be registered in Kuwait, it will seek an air operator's certificate (AOC) from the United Arab Emirates, basing its operations in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, or Sharjah. According to aviation sources in the Gulf, Al-Jazeera will begin operations as a charter/air taxi company offering connections to regional destinations. It is negotiating to acquire an Avro RJ70.

The government's decision to approve the formation of private airlines has reinvigorated efforts to privatise the state airline, Kuwait Airways. Within a week of approval being given to Al-Jazeera Airways, the finance committee of the Kuwait parliament, following years of procrastination, approved a proposal that would prepare the ground for the privatisation of the debt-ridden national carrier.

The committee's chairman, Abdelwahhab al-Haroun, said the privatisation recommendation would be placed before parliament "as a matter of urgency because of the competition that it could face from private Kuwaiti air carriers".