India a very important market, believe bilaterals have to expand, says flydubai’s Ghaith Al Ghaith

Airplane Flydubai Boeing 737-800 at Dubai International Airport at sunset (Image: Shutterstock)

Airplane Flydubai Boeing 737-800 at Dubai International Airport at sunset (Image: Shutterstock)

The Boeing 737 MAX on static display at the Dubai Airshow was turning out to be a big hit. Visitors to the show were lining up to view the business class section of the aircraft which offers lie-flat beds, something that is rare in a narrowbody aircraft like the MAX or the Airbus 320 family.

Seeing the crowds, Ghaith Al Ghaith, chief executive officer, flydubai, shifted to the economy class section of the aircraft for the interview. “As far as business is concerned we are going through a very difficult time now,” but “the Indian market being the largest provides huge potential as we move forward,” Al Ghaith said.

While being clear that the government in his opinion “knows better”, Al Ghaith also hoped there would be more capacity than less (between the United Arab Emirates and India).

Al Ghaith started his career at UAE flag carrier Emirates in 1986 as a management trainee. During his more than 20-year-long career at Emirates, he held a number of positions including executive vice-president, commercial operations worldwide, and area manager, UK and Ireland. Here are the edited excerpts:

How much has the air bubble arrangement with India affected flydubai’s operations?

We are very grateful to our government and all the other governments during this difficult time because as far as we are concerned we are managing ourselves and our airline and we look only at ourselves.

The government looks at the bigger picture and manages the bigger stage. So whatever arrangement the government reaches at the bilateral level, we are always very supportive.

The number of flights being operated by flydubai has gone up after the pandemic….

It goes up and down depending on the business. As far as business is concerned, we are going through a very difficult time now. It is not always as simple as having a schedule and hopefully the government will see what the best way forward is.

India now allows 49 percent foreign direct investments in domestic airlines. Will flydubai be interested in buying into or starting an airline in India?

At flydubai we are based on directives from our shareholders. We focus only on our operations in Dubai. We have no plans of opening any outlets or another airline outside. If you ask me what I think, of course the Indian market being the largest provides huge potential as we move forward.

Starting an airline (in India) is a very good business and good opportunity, in my personal opinion.

How much did cargo operations from India help during the lockdown?

We are not a cargo operator. We are a passenger airline with a very small cargo component. But during the first part of the pandemic there was a lot of cargo movement and it did help us kick-start our operations.

Flydubai has started operating MAX aircraft again. By when do you see permission coming to operate this variety of aircraft on the India route?

I personally feel that the MAX is a very safe aircraft. The amount of scrutiny that it had to go through all over the world has made it one of the safest planes because it has been checked, double checked and triple checked. I do not know what issues any other government has. I trust that they are doing the right thing.

United Airlines allows those passengers who do not want to fly the MAX rebook on another aircraft. Will you offer the same to flydubai passengers?

At flydubai we make very sure that we offer a lot of flexibility. Even when the MAX was grounded, we made sure that everybody who had tickets on the aircraft got refunds. When we started flying the MAX we highlighted this is the MAX and it is what it is.

Right now the MAX has matured as far as operations are concerned. In general now people book and they know they are booking the MAX and it is their choice.

Several hybrid airlines have come up like JetBlue which are looking at widebody aircraft. Is flydubai also planning to do so?

No. As far as we are concerned it is not an issue for us right now because we do not see the value of operating a widebody on our network. If we opt for longer distances then maybe. But it is not something that we aspire to do in the immediate future.

The Indian aviation ministry has indicated that it would like to review the bilaterals. As India-Dubai has one of the highest seat capacities under the bilaterals, do you see this as being feasible?

The government in my opinion knows better.  India is a very important country for us. I feel that the relationship between India and UAE is so strong that the bilaterals have to expand. People travel a lot so hopefully there will be more capacity than less.

Ashwini Phadnis was at the Dubai Air Show at the invitation of flydubai