ABU DHABI // Misery in the US airline industry has brought a shower of good fortune including a fleet of 50 aeroplanes and a seasoned executive to FlyDubai, the emirate’s new low-cost carrier.
The Government-owned airline announced yesterday it had recruited the senior executive of Skybus Airlines, a recently defunct US budget airline that, like more than two dozen other carriers this year, fell victim to high fuel prices and slackening demand.
The news comes just days after FlyDubai said it had acquired the production slots from several struggling American US carriers for 50 Boeing 737s.
Kenneth Gile, the former president and chief operating officer of Skybus, will now serve as chief operating officer for FlyDubai. Mr Gile previously spent two decades at Southwest Airlines. In his new position with FlyDubai, he will be responsible for day-to-day operations, strategic planning, inflight services, ground operations, flight operations, maintenance and engineering at the new Dubai start-up.
FlyDubai will also take delivery of its new aircraft much earlier than expected, as three US carriers have deferred their deliveries of Boeing 737s. The earlier deliveries will enable the airline to fly to more destinations much sooner than it anticipated. The carrier will begin operations next year from the new Al Maktoum International Airport in Jebel Ali.
In an industry where punctuality is the difference between profit and loss, FlyDubai’s timing appears to be impeccable. Had the new start-up begun its planning one year earlier, it would have had to contend with one of the largest aircraft order backlogs ever. In the market for single-aisled aircraft – the aeroplane of choice for budget carriers – Boeing and Airbus have a backlog of nearly 4,000 orders on their books.
But with airlines facing one of the worst crises in aviation due to the record rise in fuel prices and sagging economic growth, many have chosen to forego expansion plans in an attempt to curb spending and weather the financial storm.
Experienced pilots have also been let go in the US as a result of the airline restructuring, giving FlyDubai an opportunity to complete its staffing requirements faster and satisfy its aggressive expansion plans.
FlyDubai intends to fly to 12 destinations in its first year of operations, using four leased 737s from Babcock & Brown, an Australian lessor, and the first of its new aircraft from Boeing.
The carrier’s rapid growth plans are expected to pose a challenge to the current regional market leader for budget travel, Air Arabia. The Sharjah-based airline current operates a fleet of 15 aircraft, with 39 more on order.