Kuwait Suspends License of Wataniya Airways

 - September 11, 2018, 9:56 AM

The Kuwaiti government has suspended the license of Wataniya Airways for three months, warning that failure to address the operational “issues” that led to flight cancellations in August leaving 1,500 passengers stranded in foreign capitals would mean authorities would permanently revoke the airline’s permission to operate.

“Minister of State for Services Affairs Dr. Jenan Boushehri announced that the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) decided to suspend the permit for the airline for three months,” according to a September 5 communique issued on official news agency KUNA.

In a report referring to an ultimatum issued to Wataniya on August 25 to resolve flight delays that went unheeded, KUNA cited the DGCA’s warning that if the airline failed to tackle its problems, it will lose its license permanently.    

In temporarily withdrawing its license, Boushehri said Wataniya had neither made a tangible overhaul of its services nor introduced immediate reforms to operations, negatively affecting the national aviation sector and Kuwait’s image abroad, and undermining passengers’ interests.

According to KUNA, Wataniya board chairman Ali Al-Fozan said on September 3 the airline had planned to operate six aircraft as of August 12, but that “the company unexpectedly faced a major problem [when] three planes [in] its fleet went out of service."

A Wataniya A320 experienced an engine failure, and the company's attempt to replace it with aircraft sourced from Greece’s Olympus Airways failed when the DGCA refused to register them due to reservations over the Greek airline’s maintenance history.

Apparently referring to the A320 engine failure, Wataniya admitted on social media July 17 that a “technical error…took place on our flight from Beirut to Kuwait on July 16, 2018, which required landing the plane at Aqaba Jordan Airport.” 

KUNA said stranded Wataniya passengers due to take several other flights were advised to contact Foreign Ministry officials in Beirut, Istanbul, Tbilisi, Baku, Sarajevo, Malaga, and Athens.

In 2003, the Kuwaiti government granted new licenses to the private sector to establish commercial airlines, including Wataniya Airlines and Jazeera Airways. In 2009 Wataniya started service, which it suspended in 2011. The airline resumed operations in July 2017 and operated a fleet of four A320-family aircraft serving destinations in the Middle East, Europe, Africa, and Asia.

It remains unclear what will now happen to Wataniya’s putative aircraft orders placed at the Farnborough airshow this summer. During the show, the airline placed a firm order for 10 Embraer E195-E2s and converted an earlier MOU for 25 Airbus A320neos to a firm order. The Embraer contract, valued at some $650 million, includes purchase rights for another 10 of the same model, potentially raising its value to $1.3 billion. Wataniya—Embraer’s Middle Eastern launch customer for the model—planned to take its first airplane in 2020.