The Gulf emirate of Dubai announced on April 6 the launch of its first budget airline called flydubai, which will be taking to the skies in two months despite the global financial crisis. Flydubai will start with flights to the Lebanese capital Beirut on June 1 and to Jordan's capital Amman on June 2, company chairman Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed al-Maktoum said.
"We are committed to bringing a new option to the market and to growing the region's budget air travel business," Sheikh Ahmed said at a press conference. "This will benefit our economy, our people, and tourism business as a whole."
Dubai first announced the establishment of flydubai in March 2008, with a start-up capital of 250 million dirhams (US$67 million). It will operate two next-generation Boeing 737-800 aircraft on both the Beirut and Amman routes, Sheikh Ahmed said.
The emirate owns the largest Middle East carrier, Emirates, and has the busiest airport in the region which handled more than 37 million passengers in 2008, a 9% increase from 2007.
There are at least four other budget airlines operating in the region. The neighbouring emirate of Sharjah operates Air Arabia, while Kuwait's Jazeera Airways, operates also from Dubai and Kuwait, Bahrain Air flies from the neighbouring Gulf archipelago, and Nas from oil-rich Saudi Arabia.
The once-booming economy of Dubai was hard-hit by the global economic crisis due to a shortage in liquidity in the global debt market, which caused a slowdown in the emirate's real estate sector.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) last month said there was a sharp decline in air travel in February, as global passenger numbers nosedived 10.1% below levels recorded a year earlier, while freight traffic fell by 22.1%.
Only Middle Eastern carriers bucked the trend with a rise of 0.4% in international traffic, IATA said.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2009