London, Asharq Al-Awsat—British Airways’ Middle East regional commercial manager highlighted the importance of the Middle East to the British flag carrier, saying that British Airways (BA) has increased the number of flights it operates from the region to London’s Heathrow airport by 40 percent over the past five years.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, BA Middle East and Central Asia manager Paolo De Renzis placed the airliner’s Middle East expansion down to “continuing high demand,” adding, “this allows us to further invest in our routes in the region.”
He said: “We are constantly investing in our Middle East business, and over the last 18 months have invested in our Saudi Arabian services in particular. In early 2013, we increased capacity on our Riyadh route by more than 1,000 seats per week and also introduced an improved flight schedule, meaning better timings for Saudi customers arriving in London for business and those connecting to North American flights.”
“We also recently announced that we are introducing a four-class Boeing 777 aircraft on our Jeddah service from March 31, 2014, while we are also increasing the frequency of the service to daily. The Boeing 777 aircraft means that customers from Jeddah will be able to enjoy British Airways’ award-winning first-class cabin and latest Club World cabin, with an increase of over 250 seats each week to London Heathrow’s Terminal 5,” he added.
BA’s expansion in the Middle East comes as a number of other international and regional airliners seek to expand their business in the region. De Renzis said: “The Middle East is home to airlines that are really making their mark in the aviation industry, while it is also very competitive from other European carriers. We are very comfortable competing with both, and I am proud to say that we compete well.”
The senior BA executive stressed that his airline is continually monitoring where and when it can increase routes, capacity and flying schedule in the Middle East. “Our London to Dubai and Beirut routes are doing extremely well and we are seeing strong demand from both leisure and business travellers,” he said.
In the week that Abu Dhabi International was named “Best Airport in the Middle East” by the Skytrax World Airport Awards, De Renzis highlighted the quality of airports in the UAE, with Dubai in the process of developing the Al Maktoum International Airport.
He told Asharq Al-Awsat: “The investment from the Dubai government into providing a second airport in the emirate, Al Maktoum International Airport, will help cement Dubai’s long-term future in the aviation industry for the UAE and the wider region. When fully complete, Al Maktoum International Airport will have the capacity to handle 160 million passengers, and we definitely feel this will open up more opportunities for British Airways as well as other airlines.”
“There is huge growth in this market, which is important seeing as the Middle East is expected to be the fastest-growing region globally. The International Air Transport Association forecasts that passenger traffic into the UAE will hit 82.3 million by 2015, driven by a 9.4 percent Middle East-wide rise in air passengers,” he said.