|No small ambition - Flydubai speaks to EX-YU Aviation News|
Four years after launching flights to the former Yugoslavia, the Dubai-based hybrid carrier Flydubai says it is satisfied with its performance on the market, noting it is holding up well against rivals such as Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways, which are also present in the region. Speaking to EX-YU Aviation News, Flydubai’s Senior Commercial Vice President, Jeyhun Efendi, says the Serbian, Macedonian, Croatian and Bosnian markets form an essential part of the airline’s strategy. “This is an important market for Flydubai. We have been flying there since 2011 when we began our flights to Belgrade and in 2012 we launched flights to Skopje. We commenced services to Zagreb and Sarajevo in December 2014. Demand for these routes remain strong as passengers are able to travel to Dubai and beyond through its efficient aviation hub, offering links to 264 points around the world”, Mr Efendi says.
Flydubai faces direct competition from two Middle Eastern rivals - Qatar Airways, which operates daily services to both Zagreb and Belgrade, and Etihad Airways, which also maintains daily flights to Belgrade and is a stakeholder in Air Serbia. Despite the competition, Mr Efendi tells EX-YU Aviation News the three carriers have different strategies on the market. “Even before the airline launched in 2009, we aimed to do things differently. Being based in Dubai set a benchmark as well as having the opportunity to benefit from the developments that have transformed the emirate into a global travel hub. As the only direct link to Dubai from destinations such as Zagreb and Sarajevo, we remain focused on our strategy of offering something different to our passengers and opening up previously underserved markets”.
The hybrid airline is expanding rapidly. Only last year it added 23 new routes to its network, among which were the Croatian and Bosnian capitals. The carrier’s Senior Commercial Vice President says the two routes are performing well so far. “We have seen a strong demand for flights from Zagreb and Sarajevo and we remain committed to providing passengers with flexible and convenient travel options. This includes our business class, which is available on flights from the two cities. The routes have also provided those from the Middle East, GCC [Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, UAE, Oman] and beyond our network with easier access to discover this part of the world”. Flydubai plans to increase its presence in the former Yugoslavia this coming winter season. From October 25, the airline will operate an additional weekly service from Dubai to the Serbian and Croatian capital cities for a total of four weekly flights. Furthermore, it will run an additional weekly service to Sarajevo, compared to last winter season, for a total of three weekly flights. On the other hand, it will maintain two weekly services to Skopje during the winter.
Last month, one of the world’s largest carriers, the Dubai-based Emirates, said the former Yugoslav market is well connected by Flydubai, adding that “there are currently no concrete plans to fly to these cities”. It added, “In these markets, we cooperate closely with Flydubai, which has expanded rapidly in the region”. Flydubai was founded by the government of Dubai but is not an Emirates subsidiary, although the two cooperate closely. The hybrid airline captures a significant number of diaspora passengers from Australia and New Zealand heading to the former Yugoslavia, who are able to purchase a single Emirates ticket from their home cities and transit to their final destination via Dubai.
Further expansion in the region is possible. Flydubai is now setting its sights on all countries located within six hours of Dubai. It already flies to 57 destinations served by no other airline from the United Arab Emirates. The carrier has launched and announced sixteen new routes in 2015 and more are to come next year. The airline’s CEO, Kenneth Gile, says, “Our strategy is based on two aspects - basically bring the aircraft on and max the market up. The target is to add new aircraft and new cities”. He concludes, “If you look at where we can travel, within a six-hour radius from Dubai, there is a minimum of 2.5 billion people, which could soon reach three billion. From when we started, we have only carried about 1% of those people so even if we get it up to 2 or 3%, it is an unbelievable market size”.