Nairobi, Kenya (eTN) – Air Arabia, the first and largest low-cost carrier (LCC) in the Middle East and North Africa, has launched direct flights from Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates to Nairobi, Kenya.

The Air Arabia service to Nairobi, which begun on Sunday, October 26, 2008, will initially operate four times per week between Nairobi and Air Arabia’s hub in Sharjah.

“Air Arabia is pleased to begin service to both the capital and largest city in Kenya,” said Mr. AK Nizar, Head of Commercial Department, Air Arabia. “We currently offer one of the most comprehensive destination networks in the Middle East and Africa, and commencement of service to Nairobi is reflective of our endeavors to expand further within this region.

“By introducing efficient and cost-effective travel options for those visiting this great African city, Air Arabia continues to demonstrate its unmatched commitment to tourists and the African expatriate population of the UAE and wider Gulf region,” he added.

And almost on arrival, travel agents in Nairobi fear that low fares charged by the “no frills” carrier will impact negatively on full service, long haul operators from East Africa to Middle East.

Sharjah Airport is located a 25-minute drive from Dubai. Dubai is one of the top destinations from Nairobi, served until now by direct operators, Emirates Airlines and Kenya Airways, and indirectly by Qatar Airways (via Doha) and Ethiopian Airlines (via Addis Ababa). Gulf Air pulled out of the route in 2003, mainly due to severe competition from Emirates and Kenya Airways.

Kenya Airways is currently charging Sh58, 000 (USD $725) Nairobi to Dubai Economy fares compared to Emirates’ Sh62, 000 ($775). In contrast, Air Arabia has advertised special fares of USD326 Nairobi to Sharjah before taxes which average USD200. The total fare becomes $526 (Sh42, 200).

“We are worried that these low fares will induce passengers flying to Dubai to try the cheap fares. But connecting passengers will most probably wait to see what happens with the new carrier, so they are likely to use their preferred carriers,” said a travel agent who preferred to remain anonymous.

Nairobi becomes Air Arabia’s fourth destination in Africa, and 43rd globally. The low-cost carrier will fly to Nairobi on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, departing Sharjah at 9:40 am and arriving at Nairobi at 13:50 pm. Return flights will depart Nairobi at 14:35 pm and arrive in Sharjah at 20:40 pm. Nairobi will be Air Arabia’s first destination in Kenya, fourth in Africa and 43rd destination worldwide.

Since Air Arabia’s inception in 2003, the Sharjah-based carrier has witnessed unprecedented growth and now offers one of the largest destination networks in the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa. The carrier, which now operates a fleet of 16 new Airbus A320 aircraft, currently flies to 42 destinations globally, a figure that will rise to 44 with the introduction of flights to Nairobi and Hyderabad later this month. The airline has also witnessed a significant growth in the number of passengers, passing the 10 million-passenger-mark this year.