A NEW budget airline under the Gulf Air Group Holding Company (GFG) has been proposed by a group of MPs.Strategic Thinking Bloc spokesman Khalid Bu Onk said the national sovereign wealth fund, Bahrain Mumtalakat Holding Company, needs to explore the lucrative budget airline market with several aircraft companies across the GCC already building a base of loyal customers.However, he assured that the new facility is not being seen as a replacement for Bahrain’s national carrier, Gulf Air, but more as an option.The GFG includes Gulf Air, Bahrain Airport Company and Gulf Aviation Academy.

“There is a new budget airline market that Gulf Air Group Holding Group needs to explore and compete with,” said Mr Bu Onk.“Several budget airlines are operating in the GCC countries and they have created their own legion of customers,” he explained.“Not everything needs to be up to niche standards as provided by Gulf Air; nowadays travellers only seek cheap and reliable flights, nothing fancy.“Mumtalakat will have to explore on how to go ahead with the launch of the new Gulf Air Express airline from the financial, structural, technical and administrative perspectives.”Meanwhile, Mr Bu Onk said it was time for Gulf Air to open up for investors in a bid to reduce operational costs.Under the proposal, presented to Parliament Speaker Ahmed Al Musallam yesterday, Gulf Air would see 49 per cent of its shares offered to investors as the government only keeps 51pc out of its current full ownership.“We are not proposing that Gulf Air becomes privatised in a way that sees it lose its status as the national carrier with the majority shares of 51pc remaining with the government rather than 100pc,” he stressed.

“The time has come that the airline is not shouldered fully by the government, and sees involvement from the private sector, which would make it a pure commercial entity rather than the current government stranglehold.”The GDN revealed last month that a future vision for Gulf Air is in the works as it seeks to break even by 2027.GFG chairman Zayed Alzayani said the airline was working to support the economy, offer employment opportunities and serve the country’s aviation needs.Reflecting on the airline’s losses, he said Bahrain inherited the GCC airline from other states while $2 billion in the red.

For destinations, Mr Alzayani said the focus was on three aspects – passenger, cargo and network contribution.Meanwhile, Transportation and Telecommunications Minister Mohammed Al Kaabi, who is politically responsible for Mumtalakat, said the international loss in the industry reached $7bn due to Covid-19.Despite that, he added, Gulf Air recorded revenues of BD440.2 million at the end of last year, pointing out that the airline’s debts hit BD301.8m last year and plans are underway to balance the books by the end of 2027.Gulf Air purchased 10 new aircraft last year to maintain and improve the quality of the fleet, he added.mohammed@gdnmedia.bh

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