Air Arabia, a low-cost flyer based in the Middle East, has entered the Kenyan air space, seeking a piece of the market out of the country into the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The inaugural flight landed at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport Sunday afternoon as competition for air passengers intensified across the globe.
It becomes the first low-cost international airline into Kenya with an initial four departures planned weekly, connecting Nairobi to Air Arabia’s hub in Sharjah City, UAE.
Each of the Airbus A320 flights will carry a capacity of 162 passengers with added leg room from the standard A320 plane that carries up to 180 passengers.
On hand to welcome the maiden flight was Kenya Tourist Board (KTB) Managing Director, Achieng Ong’ong’a, and acting Chief Executive Officer of the Brand Kenya Initiative, Mary Kimonye.
Biggest source market
Speaking at the event, Ong’ong’a said UAE remained Kenya’s biggest source market in the Middle East, having registered more than 7000 arrivals up to September 2008.
The board, he said, was urgently working to diversify into new markets like Russia and China among other south Asian nations.
Ong’ong’a said: “We have seen that the Kenyan tourism product, contrary to reports, is high and we are confident it will indeed increase.”
Ong’ong’a said the entry of the scheduled airline meant that the number of high value tourists from UAE would increase significantly, expressing confidence that more budget airlines would soon venture into the local market.
A.K Nizaar, Air Arabia’s Head of Commercial Department, expressed the budget carrier’s commitment to the Kenyan market in its expansion plans.
“We are a one class service offering comparable quality service to all our passengers for between 30 to 40 per cent lower prices,” Nizaar said.
Low cost is not low quality
He clarified that low cost didn’t necessarily mean low quality as commonly perceived, saying the firm managed to break even in its first year of operations.
Air Arabia, established in 2003, is the first and largest low-cost carrier (LCC) in the Middle East and North Africa.
In 2007, it went public, attaining a market value of AED 4.5 billion in an IPO f rom the initial investment of AED 15 million.
Kenya now has 33 scheduled airlines flying out of JKIA that has been experiencing capacity problems due to the growth in aircraft and passenger movement.
However, rehabilitations are ongoing with the completion of expansion work on the existing landing apron that is already in use.
A second apron is under construction, including taxi-ways, an extended fuel hydrant system to be used by the proposed unit four terminal building.