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Cabin fever

Low cost airlines are storming into the regional market. Are they challenging the full service carriers or risking overkill? Trends magazine reports.

February 10, 2010 12:34 by

Territorial borders don’t just restrict airlines; they restrict passengers as well. Although citizens of Europe do not need visas to travel between cities in the EU, residents of the Middle East often do.

“Visas are more open,” he said, but pointed out that even with improvements, large portions of the laborer and middle class expatriate populations are unable to travel as freely in the region.

“These challenges have seen an improvement,” said Al Ghaith. “There are open skies but they are not as open as we would like them to be.”

The industry has also been plagued by several years of security concerns. The airline industry suffered heavily after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001 and during the panic about the SARS virus. Air traffic fell again recently in America after a failed Christmas Day attack in Detroit resulted in extra security.

Heightened sensitivity accompanied the extra security measures, which was illustrated when three intoxicated men were detained in London after making threats aboard an Emirates flight bound for Dubai at the start of January.

But Pichler said he does not think security concerns will have any more than a temporary effect on air traffic.

“I don’t think that these little events have any impact on the underlying demand on air travel,” he said. “It’s the safest form of travel.”

Al Ghaith says air travel is a very important part of peoples’ lives. “It will continue to grow,” he said, but paid special attention to emphasizing precautionary measures. “Always in this industry we have to work very hard to ensure there is the highest level of safety,” he said. The UAE started to crack down on airlines that were operating illegally in the emirates after a crash in Sharjah killed six people aboard a cargo plane late last year.

In December, the Arabic daily newspaper Al Khaleej reported that an Abu Dhabi investment company was developing another low cost carrier, this time to operate out of the UAE’s capital.

But the country is home to just six million people. Three low cost carriers in addition to the full service ones could be overkill. “Every time we’ve added an extra route, this question always comes,” Al Ghaith said.

“From history we know it seems to work for the advantage of that country and the advantage of that airline. Our country will still attract more tourists and more stopovers.”

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