Undaunted by the dominance of its Dubai and Abu Dhabi “big brothers” in the United Arab Emirates, Ras Al Khaimah is pressing ahead with plans to put itself on the air transport map. After a badly timed false start at the peak of the recent financial crisis, RAK Airways will have been back in business for two years by the end of 2012, and the emirate’s airport is drawing attention for its wide-open capacity and widebodies-welcome 12,332-foot runway.
RAK Airways currently operates just a pair of Airbus A320s on nine routes: two to cities in Pakistan, two to Bangladesh, as well as to Doha, Jeddah, Cairo, Calicut and Kathmandu. A large proportion of its passengers are foreign workers from the Indian subcontinent, but the airline’s commercial vice president, John Brayford, told AIN that growing tourism and industrial interest in Ras Al Khaimah are set to expand its client base. This fall, RAK Airways is due to start new daily Boeing 757 service from Germany in partnership with German charter group Jet 2.
Ras Al Khaimah Airport also serves the neighboring northern emirates of Ajman, and Umm Al Quwain. But for now, RAK Airways is its only scheduled operator and it isn’t expected to achieve an annual throughput of one million passengers before 2015 at current growth rates of 32 percent each year. The first quarter this year saw 59 percent passenger growth year-on-year, rising to 75 percent on a year-to-date basis. “Movements are up 7.4 percent, showing healthy load factors. Cargo tonnage is up 40 percent as well,” explained airport director Andrew Gower. Other development plans for the airport include the possibility of providing major operators such as Emirates Airline with a more affordable alternative for maintenance and parking.
However, the local airline will continue to expand its fleet at a modest pace. As global economics continue to be shaky, the company will consolidate over the summer period. “Whereas we were due to take a new aircraft in October, that is now unlikely because we won’t revisit the business plan again until we are satisfied over the summer that the numbers are good,” said Brayford. “With the lead time required for a new aircraft, that means we are not likely to get [our third A320] until early next year. That takes us only marginally off track because the five-year plan is a rolling plan.”