Nile Air Flows Across Saudi Arabia and into Sudan

Having overcome a previous steep drop in tourism traffic to Egypt, Nile Air, the Cairo-based scheduled carrier founded in 2008, is well positioned to continue its growth, recently announcing an expansion of its route network and increased capacity in some of its existing markets. The airline currently flies from three points in Egypt to five Saudi Arabian destinations plus Kuwait and has been shielded from the worst of the downturn by its diverse customer base and Middle Eastern route network.

In a major expansion of its network Nile Air is now adding three new routes during the first week of June, including a new country market, neighbouring Sudan. The new link between Cairo and Port Sudan will launch on June 6, 2015 and will be operated on a twice weekly basis, Nile Air’s first international service in Africa. It will bring competition and enhanced connectivity to a route currently served on a weekly basis by Sudan Airways.

This new link will be preceded by the addition of flights to Kuwait City from Cairo, adding to Nile Air’s current links from Alexandria and Luxor. The twice weekly service will commence from June 5, 2015, although the initial schedule and days of operation are being amended from July 1, 2015 to better meet customer requirements.

A further expansion in Saudi Arabia will see the introduction of flights to a sixth destination in the Kingdom. The new twice weekly link between Cairo and Al-Ahsa International Airport in the Eastern Province city of Hofuf will commences from June 1, 2015 and will grow to a three times weekly schedule from July 2, 2015.

The three new routes follow just a week after the carrier boosted the frequency of its flights from Cairo to Tabuk and Taif and just days after a significant upgrade of its Cairo – Gassim route: its Cairo – Tabuk link increased from three to five weekly frequencies from May 22, 2015 and will grow to daily from July 1, 2015, while Cairo –Taif has seen the introduction of a fourth weekly service since May 23, 2015. Capacity on its Cairo-Gassim route has more than doubled (from six to 13 weekly flights) with the introduction of a new late evening departure from May 27, 2015.

The Saudi Arabian market has been key in Nile Air’s development and its ties to Al-Tayyar Travel Group – the leading travel and tourism company in the Gulf and Middle East – provides strong brand recognition and unrivalled distribution with over 400 offices across the region.

It has served Gassim, Tabuk, Taif and Yanbu al Bahr on a scheduled basis from Cairo since 2011 and added Jeddah to its network from the capital in March last year. It has also served Gassim, Jeddah and Yanbu al Bahr from Alexandria, with its sole destination outside Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, being served from Alexandria since mid-2013 and from Luxor since last year.

“Saudi Arabia is the single largest market from Egypt in terms of passenger traffic and deployed capacity,” Ahmed Aly, Chief Executive Officer, Nile Air told Routesonline ahead of this year’s inaugural Routes Middle East and Africa in Manama, the capital of the Kingdom of Bahrain.

According to the former head of network planning and strategy at UAE carrier Etihad Airways, traffic in this market is driven by various travel segments including VFR traffic (there is a large Egyptian community in Saudi Arabia), religious movements (Hajj & Umrah), inbound tourism from Saudi Arabia and business/government traffic.

“Overall Egypt - Saudi Arabia traffic registered a 10 per cent plus growth in 2014 a significant increase given the large volume of traffic that already exists between both countries – the first five months of 2015 indicate this trend will continue,” he explained.

“Tourism from the Gulf has held up much better than from Europe. There’s also a large diaspora of Egyptians living in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, so we’ve got strong VFR traffic. And we see Umrah and Hajj religious traffic being extremely resilient,” he added.

Although Saudi Arabia will remain an integral part of the airline’s operations, Nile Air has set a clear strategic plan covering an expanded network over the next five years which will see operations covering the Middle East/Gulf, Africa and Europe. In fact it plans to introduce flights to Iraq this summer, its fourth international market.

“With the return to stability in Egypt, the country has witnessed a resurgence in tourism and economic activity which is sure to have a direct and positive impact on Egyptian aviation,” said Aly.

The airline’s latest growth has been supported by the arrival of a fourth Airbus A320 and talks are currently taking place to source additional units to cover the airline’s short to medium term requirements. This is in addition to a separate purchase agreement with Airbus for new A320s, for which deliveries are scheduled for 2018.

“The A320 aircraft is a highly versatile aircraft which would support the airline’s expansion to the Middle East, Africa & Europe – which cumulatively account for 92 per cent of air travel demand to/from Egypt,” said Aly.

In the chart, below, we look in more detail at annual bi-directional O&D passenger demand between Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Our analysis shows that passenger numbers have almost quadrupled over the past ten years, growing at an average rate of 31.0 per cent a year, thanks to the partial liberalisation of the market between the two countries.

Richard Maslen

Richard Maslen has travelled across the globe to report on developments in the aviation sector as airlines and airports have continued to evolve and…