An Air Arabia Maroc A320 takes off from EuroAirport Basel Mulhouse Freiburg on June 19, 2013. Although Air Arabia’s Moroccan franchise has an extensive presence in western Europe, the primary business unit in Sharjah is largely steering clear of the continent.
Air Arabia will not prioritize route development in Europe when it takes delivery of six leased Airbus A321neos in 2019, chief executive Adel Ali tells me. The A320 operator had been linked to a possible opening of low-cost corridors between Europe and the Middle East when it takes delivery of the larger A321, encroaching on a market dominated by full-service Gulf carriers Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways.
However, while he expects to take the long-range version of the A321neo, Ali says European cities are not top of his wish-list for the new aircraft. “If an opportunity raises itself we may look at it, but certainly this is not being ordered just to plug airplanes into Europe,” he insists, responding to a question about London and Paris. “We see there are too many airplanes already flying into Europe. There’s overcapacity on certain routes particularly. “We won’t rule out anything. But I think we have not looked into Europe yet because we’ve got enough on the plate for those airplanes already.” Ali says the longer range of the A321LR will, instead, allow new routes to China, Russia, the Far East and Africa, while Moroccan affiliate Air Arabia Maroc may also use the type to reach into eastern Europe.
The higher capacity of the A321 – it carries about 40 more seats than the A320 – should further enable up-gauging on routes to the Indian sub-continent and Russia: “Places such as Moscow and Nepal, where we could do with a bit more capacity, but we don’t necessarily need to put more frequencies.” Air Arabia currently deploys 35 aircraft from Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, flying to 71 cities as far north as Moscow, south as Nairobi, west as Sarajevo and east as Chittagong. Two more aircraft are operated from the emirate of Ras Al-Khaimah. The company has also placed seven aircraft in Morocco, two in Jordan and one in Egypt under local franchise agreements. Only the Moroccan unit has a significant presence in Europe.