Discount airline touches down in Dubai – ‘new era’ in Middle East aviation?


Low-fare air just landed smack-dab in the middle of the Middle East – specifically in skies-the-limit Dubai. That’s the place they’re building the world’s tallest building, the Burj Dubai, which already towers some 2,300-feet above the desert.

Dubai is known for grand schemes and projects writ large. Its service-intensive, globe-girdling airline is Emirates, which flies A380s replete with shower baths for First Class flyers. That’s why it’s so seemingly out of character for a low-fare new-entrant to set up shop in this opulent desert kingdom, somewhat as now-defunct Skybus did in Columbus (CMH). Skybus was the quintessential “unbundled” airline. After paying a pittance for the seat itself, you shelled out for virtually everything else a la carte – a practice that’s gained lots of traction over the past couple of years among not just discount airlines, but majors as well.

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Dubai’s cheapseater is called flydubai, and it too charges for ‘extras’ (you do get to carry on one 10kg handbag gratis). Maybe the name’s in lower case so you’ll think ‘discount airline.’ Anyway, in its press statement, the carrier doesn’t even capitalize the first letter of its name when starting a sentence.

The idea, according to the company is to “make travel a little less complex, a little less stressful, and a little less expensive.” Flydubai intends to start service from Dubai (DXB) to a slew of regional cities. Among the first batch: Beirut (BEY), Amman (AMM); Alexandria, Egypt (ALY); and Damascus (DAM). The conveyance of choice is the Boeing 737-800NG (Next Generation). The carrier has ordered 50 of the narrowbodies, the first of which was just delivered.

An announcement of when the first flight will take wing should come shortly.

It’s doubtful flydubai will meet the same fate as Skybus. The carrier is nicely capitalized. It also has a ready customer base craving cheap, dependable passage. Dubai is Expatville. Expatriates are everywhere. Westerners (increasingly looking for ways to save a buck) help run the commercial sector, and cheap labor from throughout the region and much of South Asia keeps the gears of commerce grinding away. That’s the audience – and that’s why flydubai should work just fine, perhaps causing a cascade of competitive ripples in a part of the planet where change doesn’t come all that readily .