Bahrain's Gulf Air set to launch direct Australia flights

Australia was one of the key destinations planned for launch as part of the airline’s 2020 growth strategy

Image used for illustrative purpose. An Airbus 320, the first of Gulf Air's 15 orders, arrives at Bahrain International Airport in Manama.

Image used for illustrative purpose. An Airbus 320, the first of Gulf Air's 15 orders, arrives at Bahrain International Airport in Manama.

REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

MANAMA: Gulf Air is set to soon launch direct flights to Australia, Industry, Commerce and Tourism Minister Zayed Alzayani told a webinar yesterday.

The minister said Australia was one of the key destinations planned for launch as part of the airline’s 2020 growth strategy but had to be pushed back due to the ongoing pandemic.

“We were very close to launching even through the Covid-19 but then Australia brought in restrictions on travellers into the country which made the plan unfeasible as at one point last year only Australians were allowed to come back and there were many restrictions,” he added.

The minister, who is also chairman of Gulf Air, said: “We did go all the way to the point of getting slots and timings but we had to postpone it but it’s definitely coming and now it’s just a question of timing as to how quickly we recover from Covid-19.”

Speaking during the ministerial event chaired by the Australia Bahrain Business Council and the Australia Israel Chamber of Commerce, Mr Alzayani said: “throughout the pandemic, the Bahrain airport remained open and Gulf Air continued to fly, albeit on a limited schedule as other airports remained closed, we kept Bahrain connected with the world, bringing in essential food and medical supplies.

Talking about the return to normalcy, he said Bahrain’s vaccination campaign is well underway, and “once around 70pc of the population is innoculated, we can start to open up economically, in terms of people flying in, reducing quarantine periods, etc.”

In January, Bahrain opened a state-of-the-art passenger terminal built at an investment of $1.1 billion that can cater to 14 million passengers and handle 130,000 flight movements a year.

Last week, Gulf Air became the fourth Middle East airline to sign up for the trial phase of a digital travel pass launched by International Air Transport Association (IATA) to accelerate the revival of the global aviation industry amid the pandemic.

As spokesman for the airline told the GDN that it continues to evaluate expansion to new prime markets like Australia and plans to include it to the Gulf Air network in the future.

A free trade agreement (FTA) between Australia and the GCC as a whole is also in the works with negotiations at an advanced stage, Mr Alzayani said during the event.

“In 2021, Bahrain presides over the GCC and we made it a point to develop the FTA negotiations further and we are quite hopeful and optimistic we will move forward.”

The minister said discussions on the FTA have been ongoing for a few years and “we reckon we are around 90pc of the way there”.

He said he hoped to seal the deal this year.

“We feel this will open up a new path of business relations and will reflect positively not only on trade volumes but also encourage bilateral investment through joint ventures and projects.”

According to him, sectors of interest for Bahrain include logistics, financial services, manufacturing and tourism.

“We welcome Australian investors to be a part of the growing economy of Bahrain.”

Australia’s Minister of Trade, Tourism and Infrastructure Dan Tehan also spoke during the webinar, agreeing with Mr Alzayani that his country was keen to sign the FTA with the GCC and Israel.

Mr Tehan said total two-way merchandise trade between Australia and Bahrain is estimated at $1.5 billion in 2018-19, with alumina exports from Australia making up a significant component of the trade of up to 88pc in 2018.

The Australian minister said small and medium enterprises (SMEs) of the two countries would potentially partner in education, agriculture, digital technology, renewables and finance and financial services.

He said Australia was keen to share its expertise in developing arable land, optimising water resources, engineering, and medicines with Bahrain.

The event was supported by United International SMEs Organisations (Unismo), Bahrain SMEs Society and the Economic Development Board.

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