By Victor Shalton
Air Arabia Inaugurates Direct Flights to Uganda, Posts Profitable 1H21
Air Arabia, the Middle East and North Africa’s first and largest low-cost operator, successfully launched commercial operations to Entebbe, Uganda’s capital from Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, on Oct. 10.
The five-hour, 20-minute flight landed at Entebbe International Airport on Sunday at 1:35 p.m. and was welcomed with the traditional water cannon salute and cake cutting with airport, airline and other executives.
Flights will operate three times weekly using the Airbus A320 aircraft and will depart Sharjah on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays at 9 a.m. and land at 1:35 p.m., while the return flight from Entebbe will depart at 2:15 p.m. and arrive at Sharjah International Airport at 9 p.m.
Traffic between the United Arab Emirates and Uganda continues to grow steadily with this flight, as Ugandan national carrier Uganda Airlines had begun operating flights from Entebbe to Dubai a week prior, flying three weekly flights for the foreseeable future utilizing its newest Airbus A330-800neos. The addition of the new route from the Emirati low-cost carrier will intensify the competition between Entebbe and the United Arab Emirates.
The two airlines are targeting the huge exodus of Ugandans who are seeking to work in the United Arab Emirates. According to Uganda’s Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, an average of 12,000 Ugandans fly to the Middle East annually in search of employment. While this only represents a few dozen travelers per day, travelers returning home and other commuters will help to fill up much of the new capacity on the route.
Air Arabia has also worked to bolster passengers’ convenience and confidence by introducing free Covid-19 insurance coverage. The insurance is automatically included as part of the booking, and no additional documents are required from passengers.
Air Arabia also recently partnered with two entities to form carriers in Pakistan and Armenia. Armenia’s new national airline — set to be launched by a joint venture company between the Armenian National Interests Fund (ANIF) and United Arab Emirates-based Air Arabia Group — will be named Fly Arna. ANIF and Air Arabia Group had announced the agreement to launch Armenia’s new national airline in July 2021.
Meanwhile, Air Arabia Group and Pakistani business conglomerate Lakson Group also announced their decision in September to form a joint venture to launch “Fly Jinnah,” Pakistan’s new airline. The proposed joint venture will see the establishment of a low-cost passenger airline serving domestic and international routes from Pakistan.
In spite of the Covid-19’s continued impact on the aviation’s industry financial and operational performance, the low-cost operator recorded in August a profitable first half of the fiscal year, which for the airline extends from January to June.
Air Arabia posted a net profit of 44 million Dirhams ($12 million) for the first six months of the year, an increase of 126% compared to the same period in 2020. In the same period, the airline posted total revenue of 1 billion Dirhams, a 5% increase compared to the corresponding period last year.
More than 2.3 million passengers flew with Air Arabia between January and June 2021 across the carrier’s five hubs while the airline’s average seat load factor — or passengers carried as a percentage of available seats — during the first six months of 2021 stood an average at 73%, a solid number, but one it hopes to see climb in the months ahead as it expands its network and continues to grow in the face of a post-Covid-19 recovery.