Adel Abdullah Ali, Group CEO, Air Arabia: Interview

Adel Abdullah Ali, Group CEO, Air Arabia

Interview:  Adel Abdullah Ali

To what extent will the Covid-19 pandemic have long-term consequences on airlines’ strategies, marketing and operations?

ADEL ABDULLAH ALI: The pandemic had an adverse impact on the aviation industry, especially in light of the travel restrictions and border closures. The crisis was unprecedented, but at the most critical moments the joint efforts of all stakeholders – governments, airlines, airports and regulators – allowed us to address these challenges and build back confidence in the segment. It was especially important to be cautious, and to implement the highest standards of safety and security for our personnel and passengers. The stakeholders did well in this regard, which has led passengers to trust the airports and airlines again. In the future it will be necessary to harmonise international regulations and procedures so there is more certainty should the world face a similarly disruptive event.

At the corporate level, the key lesson from the crisis is that we must remain agile and be able to react quickly. In Air Arabia’s case, we took measures that enabled us, to some extent, to control overall costs while ensuring business continuity.

With vaccinations being rolled out around the world, and players continuing to focus on safety and security protocols, it is expected that demand will recover quickly. Beyond maintaining a high level of cooperation, airlines can take steps to drive demand further by increasing passengers’ safety. For example, Air Arabia introduced free global Covid-19 medical and quarantine coverage for all passengers travelling on our flights from Sharjah and Abu Dhabi.

What are the prospects for low-cost carriers (LCCs) in the GCC, and what role can they play in the drive for environmental sustainability?

ALI: The LCC segment has strong potential in the GCC, a fact that was reflected in the launch of Air Arabia Abu Dhabi in July 2020. The carrier was formed following an agreement between Etihad Airways and Air Arabia to establish the capital’s first LCC. Shortly after the first Air Arabia Abu Dhabi flight departed for Alexandria, Egypt in July 2020, the carrier launched nine additional routes from Abu Dhabi International Airport.

It is likely that cost concerns will force airlines worldwide to adjust their business models to be closer to those of LCCs, as we have seen with several legacy carriers in Egypt. Moreover, environmental sustainability is a shared responsibility of all aviation players, including LCCs. We must explore all available options for more efficient operations – including adopting paperless procedures and other digitalised services – and take steps to limit the industry’s carbon footprint. There are other considerations related to the design and retrofitting of aircraft, including the use of devices such as Sharklet wingtips that can cut fuel consumption by about 3.5% and ultimately reduce CO emissions.

How are projects under development at Sharjah International Airport (SIA) working to support aviation and tourism in the northern UAE?

ALI: Sharjah’s location gives it a strategic advantage as an aviation centre, with access to both Dubai and the Northern Emirates. To support this role in the UAE’s aviation sector, in October 2020 the Sharjah Airport Authority completed work on the East Expansion project, which will help the airport operate more flights and increase its capacity to a targeted 20m passengers by 2025. The expansion took into consideration passenger feedback, including a review of Covid-19 safety protocols, and is designed to be user friendly. In many airports travellers need a lot of time to check in, but the size of SIA allows these processes to be less time-consuming, making the journey more pleasant for passengers.

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