Ras Al Khaimah set to lure major European carrier in tourism 'game changer'

Airport CEO says big announcement of ‘very big’ European airline will be made in early 2021

Ras Al Khaimah International Airport is in discussions to bring a leading European carrier to the emirate in a move that has been described as a “major game changer” by the company’s CEO Sanjay Khanna.

The airport in the Northern Emirates currently facilitates a number of budget airlines including Turkey-based Pegasus and the UAE’s Air Arabia. India’s SpiceJet are anticipated to launch operations before the end of the year, while moves to include ‘full-fare’ Bahrain flag carrier Gulf Air, delayed by the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, could come to fruition in the first quarter of next year.

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Expat residents will also be able to enter the emirate through the airport from October 15

Although Khanna was unable to give the identity of the unnamed European carrier due to a signed non-disclosure agreement, he said to expect an announcement in January or February next year.

He told Arabian Business: “We are in discussion with a very big European carrier. We are not disclosing the name at this moment in time because of the NDA. However, it would give us a lot of mileage and it would make Ras Al Khaimah the gateway to the UAE.

“It’ll be a prestigious carrier to add onto our portfolio of airlines operating in Ras Al Khaimah.”

Khanna said he hoped the flights with the European carrier could launch by summer 2021.

And while RAK Airport is considered very much a boutique airport, Khanna admitted he would be keen to attract more big names, while conceding his local passenger network would come from the Northern Emirates and not from the aviation powerhouses of neighbouring Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

He said: “We never compare ourselves to any of the airports, we always say that we don’t compete, we complement. Having said that, there is a big catchment area. You may consider Ras Al Khaimah as alone but the trend that we see is people connecting from places like Fujairah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwaim coming to Ras Al Khaimah to take a flight, whether it is to Pakistan, or Bangladesh, or Egypt, or even for that matter Turkey or Europe.

“Definitely we want to grow but the idea is not by taking somebody else’s traffic, only by retaining our traffic and addressing the residents and nationals of the Northern Emirates.”

Last week, Air Arabia resumed a full schedule of passenger flights from Ras Al Khaimah as the airport slowly returns to its original capacity and resumes operations following a period of restricted services that was necessary to curtail non-essential travel in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

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With commercial activities at RAK Airport reverting to pre-pandemic levels, passengers flying in and out of the facility are required to follow protocol that it is in line with national efforts to control Covid-19 and prevent the spread of the virus.

Included in the mandatory requirements for passengers entering and leaving the UAE through RAK Airport are possessing adequate health insurance, obtaining a Covid-19 test result no longer than four days before travel, and completing a health disclosure form.

Arriving passengers are also required to download the Al-Hosn app, undertake a Covid-19 test upon arrival at airport, and self-quarantine at their destination hotel or residence until the results of the test are known.

If found to be positive for coronavirus, visitors and returning residents are obliged to isolate according to Ministry of Health and Prevention guidelines.

The potential growth in European tourists comes as Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority last month announced its long-term investment strategy aimed to boost the growth and diversification of Jebel Jais, the UAE’s highest mountain.

The plans include a pop-up hotel concept, scheduled to open in the second half of 2021, which will introduce cliff side accommodation with mountain views, and the Jais Coaster, a summer toboggan/bobsled concept inspired by the Alps, which will open in Q2 2021.

The plan underscores the emirate’s resilience and recovery momentum despite the challenges imposed this year by the Covid-19 pandemic.

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