Middle East sees the launch of its newest airline since COVID-19 pandemic

Wizz Air Abu Dhabi, a joint venture between the Abu Dhabi government and Switzerland headquartered Wizz Air Holdings plc, will launch its inaugural flight to Athens on Jan. 15 2021. (Supplied)
1 / 3
Wizz Air Abu Dhabi, a joint venture between the Abu Dhabi government and Switzerland headquartered Wizz Air Holdings plc, will launch its inaugural flight to Athens on Jan. 15 2021. (Supplied)
Wizz Air Abu Dhabi, a joint venture between the Abu Dhabi government and Switzerland headquartered Wizz Air Holdings plc, will launch its inaugural flight to Athens on Jan. 15 2021. (Supplied)
2 / 3
Wizz Air Abu Dhabi, a joint venture between the Abu Dhabi government and Switzerland headquartered Wizz Air Holdings plc, will launch its inaugural flight to Athens on Jan. 15 2021. (Supplied)
Wizz Air Abu Dhabi, a joint venture between the Abu Dhabi government and Switzerland headquartered Wizz Air Holdings plc, will launch its inaugural flight to Athens on Jan. 15 2021. (Supplied)
3 / 3
Wizz Air Abu Dhabi, a joint venture between the Abu Dhabi government and Switzerland headquartered Wizz Air Holdings plc, will launch its inaugural flight to Athens on Jan. 15 2021. (Supplied)
Short Url
Updated 31 December 2020

Middle East sees the launch of its newest airline since COVID-19 pandemic

Wizz Air Abu Dhabi, a joint venture between the Abu Dhabi government and Switzerland headquartered Wizz Air Holdings plc, will launch its inaugural flight to Athens on Jan. 15 2021. (Supplied)
  • Wizz Air Abu Dhabi plans to expand route network, fleet, target Saudi market

DUBAI: While travelers in the Middle East are still facing some restrictions and regional airlines are suffering financially as a result of the impact of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, Abu Dhabi is bucking the trend and is set to launch a new low-cost carrier in January and is even eying Saudi Arabia as part of its ambitious expansion plans.

Back in March at the height of the pandemic, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) – predicted that the global aviation sector would need $200 billion of state support, or only about 30 of the more than 700 airlines around the world would survive.

It was at this time that the team at Wizz Air Abu Dhabi were going through the paperwork to set up the airline they announced in December 2019. Once the rubberstamp was received in October, the world was still facing a lot of restrictions and the IATA was just as pessimistic.

In November, the association said the total net loss for the global aviation sector would amount to $118.5 billion in 2020 and a recovery would not be seen until the second half of 2021.

In the Middle East, passenger demand fell by 73 percent and regional airlines are likely to record losses of $7.1 billion, the IATA added.

Despite all this, Wizz Air Abu Dhabi, which is a joint venture between the Abu Dhabi government and Switzerland-headquartered Wizz Air Holdings plc, will launch its inaugural flight to Athens on Jan. 15, with Thessaloniki starting on Feb. 4, and flights costing from 129 Emirati dirhams ($35).

“The waiting is almost over for Abu Dhabi fans of our ultra-low fare airline,” said Kees Van Schaick, managing director of Wizz Air Abu Dhabi.

The airline already has plans to add more routes, with flights to Armenia, Cyprus, Egypt, Georgia, and Ukraine set to be launched in due course.

“Our network from Abu Dhabi will expand rapidly as destinations on our planned network are added to the ‘green countries’ list. Thanks to the support of the government and our local business partners in Abu Dhabi, we are fully prepared. We have the aircraft, we have the crew, we have the partners, and we are ready to fly,” Van Schaick added.

The fledgling airline currently has three leased Airbus A321 neo (new engine option) aircraft among its fleet, but as the routes increase, it plans to add more before the end of the year.

“We have today three Airbus A321 neos, with a seat count of 239 on one aircraft. The first one will start to fly to Greece. Sadly, we will not be utilizing from the start all three aircraft to the maximum extent because we simply have no routes without guaranteeing enough,” Van Schaick said.

“But again, we are confident that will happen not that long from now. We have the three aircraft in the UAE, and, if all goes according to plan, we will be adding aircraft and of course we will do so wisely.

“We will only do so when we make certain returns with them. But that may be four to six aircraft in the next 12 months, that should be achievable.”

The Dutchman would not reveal when the airline aims to become profitable or break even, but he did say that Saudi Arabia was among its target markets, with its route map extending to those within five hours flying from the UAE capital.

“We very much look forward to operating in Saudi. When? I will not speculate, but we very much like to operate to Saudi. To and from Saudi we will be able to stimulate demand for our type of air traffic and that will be good for Saudi and good for the UAE,” he said.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies have seen extra costs in terms of increased cleaning and restricted operations and Van Schaick said the new Abu Dhabi airline was no different.

“Yes, that brings additional costs because of the cleaning, simply said, which is more frequent. Also, boarding processes may take a bit longer than normal. We are, of course, turning around our aircraft very quickly, but once we land at the destination, the boarding process takes longer, which means more time on the ground before we turn around and fly back.

“That brings a certain cost to the system, but there is no other way of doing it like this. We see additional cost, but it is part of going into business,” he added.


Saudi fast-food chain Herfy expands in Bangladesh

Saudi fast-food chain Herfy expands in Bangladesh
Updated 49 min 16 sec ago

Saudi fast-food chain Herfy expands in Bangladesh

Saudi fast-food chain Herfy expands in Bangladesh
  • Herfy inaugurated its first branch outside the Middle East under a franchise system in Bangladesh in December 2017
  • Herfy Food Services Company was established in 1981, and the first Herfy restaurant opened in Riyadh that same year

JEDDAH: Herfy Food Services Company, Saudi Arabia’s largest fast-food chain, has opened its fifth restaurant in Bangladesh, following the success of previous branches in the capital city.
The financial impact from the opening will reflect in the first quarter of 2021, the company said in a Tadawul statement.
Herfy inaugurated its first branch outside the Middle East under a franchise system in Bangladesh in December 2017. 
According to an agreement signed with Bangladeshi private-sector company Greenland Services Ltd. in 2016, Herfy aims to open 30 outlets within “a few years.”
In 2020, Herfy reported an estimated annual net profit after zakat and tax of SR 53.6 million ($14.29 million), a drop of 73 percent year-on-year, as revenue for the year fell 16.6 percent to SR 1.074 billion.
Herfy was hit by the closure of its restaurants in malls and shopping centers. Moreover, working hours at stores had been reduced while administrative and general expenses had increased.
At its Bangladesh branches, Herfy offers training for employees and provides its franchisees with its own products, including meat, chicken and sauces — all made in its Saudi-based factories.
Herfy Food Services Company was established in 1981, and the first Herfy restaurant opened in Riyadh that same year. As of September 2020, the company owns a total of 40 restaurants and leases 345.


Huge surge in GCC demand for Ivy League university coaches

Huge surge in GCC demand for Ivy League university coaches
Updated 28 February 2021

Huge surge in GCC demand for Ivy League university coaches

Huge surge in GCC demand for Ivy League university coaches
  • Companies like Crimson Education coach students on how to improve their chances of being one of the few who receive an offer letter
  • Demand can differ from country to country, with those in the UAE preferring British institutions

DUBAI: Getting into a prestigious Ivy League university is no easy task. 
According to the latest figures, California’s Stanford University was especially picky, with a 2019 acceptance rate of just 4 percent. Columbia and Harvard followed with 5 percent, while Princeton and Yale were slightly easier with 6 percent of applicants getting offers.
The race to get these coveted places is also getting harder as the number of applicants has gone up and universities have become even stricter. Dubai-based Crimson Education has reported a surge in clients looking for help to gain access to institutions in the US, as well as into Oxford and Cambridge.
“The number of students who joined Crimson Education in the region over the past six months was 200 percent up from the same period the previous year,” Soraya Behesti, regional director for the Middle East and Africa at Crimson Education, told Arab News. “The company had a big push to hire new strategists in order to meet the surging demand. Crimson grew 250 percent from 2019 to 2020 and is projected to grow more than 150 percent this year.” 
The demand makes sense. 
A 2015 report from the US Department of Education found that the average salary of Ivy League graduates a decade after they finished university was $70,000 a year, compared to the average salary for non-Ivy League graduates of $34,000.
Companies like Crimson Education coach students on how to improve their chances of being one of the few who receive an offer letter, and Behesti said the acceptance rate among their clients was three times the global average.
There are also a number of trends which has seen demand for such services skyrocket in recent years.
“The number of students who applied early to Ivy League colleges skyrocketed in 2020, although the acceptance rate reached record lows,” Behesti added. “Applications to Columbia and Harvard’s early rounds increased from the previous year by 49 percent and 57 percent, respectively. Applying early to their top-choice university usually gives students an advantage but last year, the early round acceptance rate was closer to that of the regular round, with Harvard admitting just 7.4 percent of early applicants, from 13.9 percent in the previous year.”
Students have started enrolling for help earlier because of the increased competition, and Behesti said Crimson had seen a rise in demand from clients as young as nine.
“When we work with students from a young age, our sessions and objectives are not focused on universities per se, but building really strong foundations, developing a growth mindset, cultivating good study habits, learning entrepreneurial thinking and even developing core skills such as coding, debate or languages.”
Demand can differ from country to country, with those in the UAE preferring British institutions, while Saudi students show a preference for US ones, especially Columbia, Harvard and Yale. 
Having the right aptitude is good, but money also really counts. Crimson said that studying at an Ivy League university cost between $30,000 and $45,000 per year, although between 40 and 60 percent of students received some form of financial aid.
“For GCC students, governments offer attractive scholarships — but usually only for students who gain admission to the top 100 universities. We have worked with Emirati and Saudi students of all abilities, from A-grade academics to students struggling at school, to ensure their admission to the top 100 schools through academic tutoring, admissions support and extra-curricular coaching, thereby allowing them to receive government scholarships,” Behesti said.


South African mobile operator MTN eyes $65mn deal for Syrian business

South African mobile operator MTN eyes $65mn deal for Syrian business
Updated 28 February 2021

South African mobile operator MTN eyes $65mn deal for Syrian business

South African mobile operator MTN eyes $65mn deal for Syrian business
JOHANNESBURG: MTN Group remains committed to negotiating a $65 million sale of its 75 percent stake in its Syrian unit, the South African mobile operator said on Sunday, despite the business being placed under judicial guardianship last week.
MTN Syria was placed under guardianship by a court in Damascus over alleged MTN violations of the terms of its licensing contract, which the state says deprived the government of revenue.
MTN has denied the allegations and on Friday said that it intended to appeal.
The appointed guardian, who is chairman of MTN Syria minority shareholder TeleInvest, will be responsible for managing day to day operations while the guardianship order remains in place. The court’s statement did not indicate how long that might be.
TeleInvest had been lined up to buy MTN Group’s 75 percent stake in MTN Syria for a previously undisclosed price.
“MTN Group is still committed to executing on the agreed transaction with TeleInvest to dispose of its 75 percent shareholding and loans for a consideration of $65 million in total,” a spokeswoman for the South African company told Reuters.
The sale to TeleInvest is part of MTN Group’s plans to exit the Middle East in the medium term.
The group’s operations in the Middle East have been marred by allegations that it used bribes to win a 15-year operating license in Iran and that it aided militant groups in Afghanistan.
MTN denies the allegations.
In the six months to June 2020, MTN Syria accounted for 0.7 percent of the group’s core profit.

Tabreed weather-watching AI could cool homes from Dubai to Makkah

Tabreed weather-watching AI could cool homes from Dubai to Makkah
Updated 28 February 2021

Tabreed weather-watching AI could cool homes from Dubai to Makkah

Tabreed weather-watching AI could cool homes from Dubai to Makkah
  • It is one of four new pilot projects announced by Tabreed that will support its aim to boost plant efficiency and reduce operating costs

DUBAI: The UAE company that provides cooling to thousands of homes across the Gulf plans to use weather-watching technology to anticipate when demand will rise and fall.

It is one of four new pilot projects announced by Tabreed that will support its aim to boost plant efficiency and reduce operating costs, the company said in a bourse filing on Sunday.

Demand for district cooling varies widely from day to day depending on outside temperature, humidity, wind speed and other atmospheric factors.

The “Wet Bulb Forecasting” project aims to better forecast customer demand over the next 24 hours by analyzing some of these factors using artificial intelligence.

“Based on the simulation of this pilot project, we forecast a 25 to 30 percent increase in performance, compared to our industry benchmarks,” said François-Xavier Boul, Tabreed’s chief development officer.”

Gulf states including the UAE and Saudi Arabia are seeking to reduce their carbon footprint through the use of green technology and alternative energy sources.

Tabreed operates 86 district cooling plants around the region, including three in Saudi Arabia.

Among the developments it services are the world’s tallest building in Dubai and the Jabal Omar Development in Makkah.


UAE, Ukraine discuss new trade, investment partnerships

UAE, Ukraine discuss new trade, investment partnerships
Updated 28 February 2021

UAE, Ukraine discuss new trade, investment partnerships

UAE, Ukraine discuss new trade, investment partnerships
  • The committee, which was formed after the state visit, discussed plans to enhance trade, investment and other partnership opportunities for both countries

DUBAI: The UAE-Ukraine Coordination Committee has held its first remote meeting to discuss potential partnerships between the two countries, state news agency WAM has reported.

The meeting followed the first visit of Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to the UAE, and was attended by several Emirati ministers.

“The Ukrainian president’s visit to the UAE resulted in setting up a clear strategy to enhance the strong strategic relations between the two countries, which would contribute to opening doors for exploring new cooperation prospects,” Mariam Bint Mohamed Almeheiri, minister of state for food and water security, said.

The committee, which was formed after the state visit, discussed plans to enhance trade, investment and other partnership opportunities for both countries.

“We will work together over the coming months to explore initiatives that will contribute to increasing our trade volume and improve our economy on the basis of trade, investment and joint interests,” Almeheiri said.