CAIRO: AlMasria Universal Airlines plans to start Egypt s first private commercial airline this year despite a global slump in the industry, flying to 20 destinations with Airbus planes, its president said on Tuesday.
Hassan Aziz, a former pilot, said he wanted to take advantage of low prices during a global financial crisis to tap demand for travel in the most populous Arab country, a tourist destination that boasts the pyramids and Red Sea beaches.
It s an opportunity that must be grabbed to form a company at a price I won t have in two years, he told Reuters by telephone. Fuel prices are down, support equipment is cheap, services are very cheap, and (the salary bill for) the manpower that makes or breaks an airline is down.
AlMasria would be Egypt s first scheduled private carrier, joining state-owned EgyptAir and charter companies. Egypt s economy is on track for its slowest economic growth this year in half a decade, but Aziz said he still saw demand coming from expatriate workers and tourism.
Egypt, home to the Pharaonic city of Luxor, attracts more than 10 million tourists a year.
We will serve the tourist industry and Egyptian expatriates working in the Arab countries and Europe, he said.
Aziz also said the airline would seek to offer inexpensive tickets to compete with ferry companies.
Global airlines have cut tens of thousands of jobs as global economies slow and more than 40 carriers have been grounded over the past 20 months, but Aziz said he sees prices recovering.
We foresee in a year and a half, when the market has recovered, prices will be sky-high, he said.
Smaller airline companies in the Middle East have bet economic growth in the oil-exporting region would allow them to survive the crisis.
United Arab Emirates-based Fly Dubai has said it would begin operations this year. Kuwait-based Wataniya Airways started as a luxury carrier in January and has said it hopes to break even by 2011.
Aziz said AlMasria took delivery of its first plane, a leased Airbus A320, on Tuesday. It would be the first in a fleet projected to grow to 10 planes in five years, he said.
The company plans to add three more aircraft over the next 12 months and would choose only Airbus A320 s to save money on maintenance and spare parts.
Aziz said the company expects to receive a license to fly by Sunday and would begin trial flights on April 20 with its first commercial flights in June.
AlMasria would fly to Arab countries including Libya, Bahrain and Kuwait. In Europe, it would fly to cities including Copenhagen and Milan, Aziz said