Kuwait’s Jazeera Airways projects an optimistic outlook for the coming six months, as the Airbus A320/A320neo operator works its way through a raft of local Covid-19 measures that could ease as early as the beginning of 2022.
“We expect a return to 2019 levels by the first quarter of next year,” said Jazeera Airways CEO Rohit Ramachandran. “It's not a demand issue for us. It is a constraint issue, based on home base public health requirements, as well as in other countries. When people are allowed to travel, as far as our segments go, they want to travel. It's just that they're not being allowed to travel.”
Covid measures prohibited expats from entering Kuwait until August 1, ending a period of 15 months when the country did not allow travel for the biggest segment of the population. Vaccinated Kuwaitis could travel starting in May.
Until May, Kuwait Airport’s capacity fell to a negligible 1,000 passengers a day. Authorities slowly raised the limit to 5,000 passengers a day, a cap that remained in effect until two weeks ago. “Now, it's 7,500 passengers per day, with cases in Kuwait dramatically falling as a result of the vaccination drive,” said Ramachandran.
Those limitations will relax in a phased manner, given that other countries also have their own restrictions. “In all our networks, you often have to synchronize and juggle conflicting public health restrictions, " Ramachandran added. "That is gradually easing; you will find the third quarter to be a very different result compared with the second quarter this year and earlier quarters.”
Passengers aboard the airline peaked in the third quarter of 2019 at 703,000 before falling to only 43,000 in the second quarter of 2020. The figure rose to 104,000 in the second quarter of this year.
In anticipation of future growth, fleet expansion continues with the imminent arrival of two A320neos. Once they join the fleet, it will consist of eight A320ceos and nine A320neos. In early 2018, Jazeera became the first Gulf airline to operate the Neos, and the carrier now flies the model's longest scheduled service, a once-weekly Kuwait-London Heathrow service. “The 16th and 17th aircraft are right now in the delivery process,” Ramachandran told AIN on Sunday. “We have a team in Toulouse, which is accepting those airplanes between this week and next.
“We have many ambitious plans in terms of opening a number of routes that were previously unconnected to Kuwait, and through Kuwait. The only thing that the pandemic has done is effectively delay the implementation of these expansion plans by about 18 months.”
In the past four months, despite the closure of Egypt, India, and several "bread and butter routes," Jazeera managed to expand its network to a current total of 37 destinations. “We opened nine new routes during this period, some of which have never had connectivity with Kuwait, including Tashkent in Uzbekistan, Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan, Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, Sarajevo, and a few points in Turkey…Once vaccinated Kuwaitis were able to travel, the demand just exploded.”
He said the airline performed well in July and had even better results in August. “There's light at the end of the tunnel," explained Ramachandran. "As the pace of vaccination picks up—and Kuwait has already seen 70 percent of its population fully vaccinated—I have no doubt that, once the limitations on airport capacity are liberalized, we'll be back to our usual, strong financial performance.”