RAK: Staking a claim in aviation

With passenger traffic on the rise and new routes earmarked for its flag carrier, Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) is strengthening its foothold in the regional aviation market despite facing tough competition from the other emirates.

The carrier, RAK Airways, has faced a challenging few years, first being grounded at the height of the global economic recession and then, after a period of restructuring, returning to the skies in mid-2010 with modified services and a reduced number of routes.

Since then, the airline has worked on building up passenger numbers, filling 250,000 seats in 2011, while gradually expanding its flight list to include destinations in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. More recently, RAK Airways announced that it was looking to extend its routes to Europe and increase services to India and Pakistan. The airline now plans to have 10 aircraft operating on 25 routes by 2015.

Industry analysis service provider the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA) said RAK Airways’ decision to position itself somewhere between the no-frills low cost carriers (LCCs), which are fast gaining a foothold in the region, and full service airlines shows clearly that the carrier has moved towards a hybrid business model.

While RAK Airways will be hoping that its bid to stake a claim in both markets will lead to more filled seats, the carrier appears to be aware of the risk of falling between the two business models while operating in a highly competitive environment.

The airline’s new acting chief executive officer, John Brayford, accepts that LLCs pose tough competition for RAK Airways but is confident that the carrier’s strategy places it in a strong position to drive up passenger numbers.

“The budget airlines are extremely competitive and the low fare offering has proven very successful with customers throughout the region,” Brayford said in an interview with Arab News on May 23. “They are also very agile and are quick to respond to changing market conditions. However, our customer proposition is to offer better overall value for money with added benefits such as a meal for every customer on every flight while retaining a competitive price and offering a high standard of service for everyone.”

The flag carrier’s move to introduce additional routes, boosted by RAK’s efforts to market itself as a tourist and business destination, has also led to a significant rise in passenger numbers at RAK International Airport. Data issued by the airport’s operators show passenger traffic increased by 58.5% in the first three months of 2012, well above expectations.

Announcing the first-quarter results on May 12, the airport’s director, Andrew Gower, said that new carriers looking to expand their routes in the region would be attracted by the hub’s strategic location and proximity to a sizeable potential customer base.

“We are only 20-45 minutes from Ajman, Umm Al Quwain and Fujairah, with a combined population of approximately 900,000. Because of this, RAK International Airport is a very attractive proposition for the airlines,” he said.

With plenty of take-off and landing slots still available, RAK’s airport also has an advantage over some regional hubs that are struggling with capacity problems. Keen to maintain the hub’s edge, at the end of April, airport management announced a major upgrade for the hub that aims to raise passenger handling capacity from 500,000 a year to 2m by 2015.

RAK’s drive to boost investment in the emirate’s flag carrier and further develop on-the-ground infrastructure show a commitment to expansion that the emirate hopes will help it establish a niche in the Gulf’s competitive aviation industry.

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