India's low-cost and second-largest airline SpiceJet has announced plans to build its first international hub in the United Arab Emirates. The hub would be in Ras al-Khaimah (RAK
International Airport), the UAE's northern-most sheikhdom.
At a signing ceremony last week, SpiceJet chairman and managing director Ajay Singh said the airline would use the new hub to extend its range as far as Western Europe.
SpiceJet flights between New Delhi and Ras al-Khaimah should begin in December with a five-times-a-week frequency, Singh said.
He also said the carrier sees a strong potential in logistics space. "We have started SpiceJet freighter aircraft and we will be expanding on that as well. We are trying to create a logistics hub at RAK airport for aircraft maintenance and repair operations."
The carrier's cargo activities are concentrated under the brandname SpiceXpress, which currently operates nine cargo flights: six weekly services to Hong Kong from New Delhi, Kolkata and Guwahati and one domestic rotation connecting Hyderabad, New Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Chennai.
Indian airports are getting increasingly congested
Singh said the airline will be applying for certification of the Ras al-Khaimah hub shortly and approval will take around three to six months. The new airline will help connect India with Eastern and Western European destination using RAK as hub. Singh noted that airports in India are getting congested and with new aircraft coming for SpiceJet, the carrier is forced to look at alternatives in the region.
He disclosed that SpiceJet will initially base four to five Boeing 737-800's in the UAE, which will be replaced with five Boeing 737 Max aircraft once the worldwide grounding of the planes following deadly crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia, is lifted. Latest indications are that this may take place in the later part of the first quarter of 2020.
RAS is not competing with other local airports - Khanna
SpiceJet, which operates 550 flights on an average every day, has a fleet of 77 Boeing 737s, 32 Bombardier Q-400s and three Boeing 737-800 freighters.
SpiceJet's expansion to Ras al-Khaimah comes as the UAE already is home to three major discount airlines - Sharjah-based Air Arabia, FlyDubai and a just-announced partnership with Abu Dhabi's struggling Etihad Airways and Air Arabia.
Compared to neighbouring Dubai International Airport, Ras al-Khaimah is a small airport previous attempts to reinvigorate the airport have failed to take off. Sanjay Khanna, the CEO of Ras al-Khaimah International Airport, told The Associated Press (AP) that the airport is not competing with its local rivals. "We are complementing. We step back and say we are growing," AP quoted Khanna as saying. Currently, Sharjah-based budget carrier Air Arabia flies from RAK International Airport to certain destinations in Pakistan and the Gulf countries.
Nol van Fenema
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