Flying is good. Can there be too much of a good thing?
Before dust settles over the launch of a new low-cost airline by Etihad and AirArabia, SpiceJet made an interesting announcement. It will be building its first international hub at the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah in UAE. The airline is expected to be launched in 2020.
These are interesting times for aviation in UAE.
About Ras Al Khaimah
For the uninitiated, Ras Al Khaimah is one of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates (UAE). You may have heard some of the more popular ones – Dubai, Abu Dhabi and even Sharjah. Each of these emirates are largely self-governed with a lot of autonomy.
Ras Al Khaimah is a beautiful place. Whether you are interested in a desert experience or some great beaches. Abbreviated as RAK, the emirate has some fantastic properties including three of my favorite resorts in UAE
Ras Al Khaimah also has an airport (Code: RKT). The airport is located approximately 75km from Sharjah Airport (SHJ) and 95km from Dubai Airport (DXB). At present, AirArabia operates a few flights to Pakistan and some gulf destinations.
What is SpiceJet Thinking?
It is quite clear that SpiceJet wants to use Ras Al Khaimah as a hub for travel from India to Europe. Perhaps from the southern cities in India (Chennai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Kochi). For instance, let us consider a journey from Chennai to Vienna via Ras Al Khaimah.
The flight from Chennai to Ras Al Khaimah would take approximately 4.5 hours. And the flight from Ras Al Khaimah to Vienna would be 6.5 hours. In my opinion, the idea is to consolidate travelers from India into Ras Al Khaimah and operate flights to destinations in Europe or Africa.
India’s leading airline Indigo has been contemplating this for some time now with Istanbul as hub. However, due to issues with Airbus Neos and political issues with Turkey, this has not panned out yet. Between Istanbul and Ras Al Khaimah, it appears the former was a better choice anyway. For example, this is the flight path for Air India’s non-stop service from Delhi to Vienna.
As you can see, for almost half of India (including its largest cities – Delhi and Mumbai), a flight to Europe via UAE will required significant diversion. This adds to flying time and costs.
The choice of RKT is a interesting one due to other factors as well. Especially with large hubs like Dubai and Abu Dhabi not too far away. Naturally, if this plan succeeds, it would be great for the tourism potential of Ras Al Khaimah. Therefore, it would be fair to assume that the emirate would be supporting SpiceJet’s plan in some way.
SpiceJet has a large order book with Boeing. However, due to the ongoing issues with 737Max, I expect the orders to be delayed substantially. SpiceJet’s primary market (India) is still under-penetrated so I presume it would be their primary focus.
And then you have flyDubai, AirArabia and the big brothers – Emirates and Etihad. All these airlines have significant operations running in India. How would they react?
A lot of unanswered questions here. Please let us know what you think.