Civil aviation is dominated by Gulf Airways – the flagship carrier of the Kingdom of Bahrain – but it is facing a rising threat from privately owned new entrant, Bahrain Air. The Bahrain Department of Civil Aviation Affairs is the regulatory authority for all transport and controls the Bahrain Flight Information Region (FIR). The Kingdom has adopted an open skies policy to provide opportunities for Gulf Air and other airlines to operate on an unrestricted basis.
Airports in Bahrain
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Regional political uncertainty and social turmoil have not been able to stop low-cost carriers in the Middle East from reporting another profitable six months. Two of the region’s key privately owned LCCs, the Sharjah-based Air Arabia and the Kuwait-based Jazeera Airways, have both posted strong profits in 1H2013.
In addition to this, the region’s other two LCCs, the privately owned nasair and the emirate of Dubai-controlled flydubai are anticipating profitable full year results. flydubai reported a maiden profit in 2012 and is looking to continue this momentum into 2013.
nasair has not yet reported a break-even year, despite being launched in 2007, but a restructuring in late 2012 has already seen the carrier reporting profits on a monthly basis.
Uganda’s Government will soon consider a plan to relaunch Uganda Airlines as the national carrier to take on the dominance of foreign airlines and take advantage of a growing economy, boosted by a budding oil industry and tourism.
In addition the Government has unveiled plans to invest USD400 million on airport expansion and developments, the bulk of which will be spent on ageing and capacity constrained Entebbe International Airport (EIA), but will also improve several domestic airports to foster the establishment of a domestic network.
A new flag carrier will have to contend with Air Uganda which has growth aspirations of its own while the redevelopment of EIA will better position Uganda to compete with much larger regional hubs in Kenya and Tanzania.
The Saudi Arabian General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) has confirmed that Qatar Airways and Gulf Air will launch domestic operations in the country before the end of 2013. The granting of the licences to two foreign carriers to operate domestic service is an unparalleled move of openness in the Middle East. It will start a new era for travel within the country.
The opening of the Saudi Arabian market presents a new challenge to national airline Saudia. However, after several years of facing competition from domestic carriers and a thorough modernisation ahead of its entry into SkyTeam in 2012, as well as the extended international reach that alliance membership offers it, the carrier is in a better position now to meet the latest threat.
Gulf Air’s latest attempt at a turn around, launched in late 2012, appears to be quickly producing concrete results for the struggling Bahraini national carrier. The latest in a long line of revival attempts, the plan has dramatically downsized the Gulf’s oldest airline in an attempt to end the years of heavy losses.
At the end of 1Q2013, Gulf Air announced it achieved a 21% cut in overall costs during the quarter, crediting the improvement to a reduction in aircraft leasing fees, cuts to flight-related charges and staff expenses and the closure of loss-making routes.
Yields were up 21% year-on-year in the quarter, thanks to stronger traffic demand in the region and significantly higher sales in Bahrain, as well as its broader fleet and network restructuring. As a consequence, the carrier reported that losses in 1Q2013 were approximately half what they had been in 1Q2012.
nasair has long been the junior partner in the Saudi Arabian aviation market, but five years into operations its fortunes have begun to change. In 3Q2012, the airline reported its first-ever quarterly profit. It also managed to breakeven in the final quarter of the year, ending 2012 with a small loss. Load factors have hit a record 75% and nasair has turned its operational performance around to generate more revenue.
With the improving financial momentum and promising passenger traffic, the carrier is optimistic about its prospects for 2013. Sulaiman Al-Hamdan, Group CEO of NAS Holding – the parent of nasair – has announced the carrier is targeting a 50% increase in passenger traffic for 2013. As if that wasn’t ambitious enough, the carrier is also targeting a 100% increase in revenue and its first ever full-year profit.
As another Gulf Air CEO has come and gone, the Bahraini government again picks up the task of plotting a new path for the formerly multi-national airline.
The carrier’s board announced on 29-Nov-2012 that it had accepted the resignation of widely respected airline executive, Mr Samer Majali – which he submitted earlier this year – following the appointment of a new Gulf Air board in mid-Nov-2012. Mr Majali will remain in his position until the end of 2012.
And so the troubled and politically muddled airline stumbles onwards with continuing political meddling and no clear direction for its future. With Mr Majali's departure, the prospects for Gulf Air's recovery become even more slender.
In a parallel development, the Bahrain Parliament has also voted to replace the carrier’s entire board as well as wiping out two external consultancy contracts. A new board has been announced, led by the deputy premier and consisting of a mix of Bahraini parliamentarians, advisors to Bahrain’s royal court and representatives from the Bahrain Mumtalakat Holding Company, which has ownership of the carrier.