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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 October, 2003, 10:10 GMT
Gulf gets first no-frills flights
The Middle East's first self-declared budget airline makes its first commercial flight on Wednesday, hoping to cash in on the expatriate and guest worker market.

An Air Arabia plane standing ready on the tarmac at Sharjah International Airport
Air Arabia aims to emulate US and European no-frills pioneers
The firm, Air Arabia, is based at Sharjah international airport in the United Arab Emirates.

Its first service is the 55-minute hop from Sharjah to Bahrain, but its 14 flights a week also go to Beirut, Damascus, Kuwait and Muscat.

Tehran is due to follow, along with Egypt and South Asia.

The Gulf already has one low-cast airline: Gulf Traveller - an arm of Gulf Air, which began services out of Abu Dhabi in July.

Gulf Traveller sells itself as a full service but economy class airline, rather than following the full budget model pioneered by the likes of Easyjet in the UK and Southwest in the US.

Air Arabia, in contrast, is a ticketless airline and very low on in-flight frills.

Prices for its Airbus A-320s are around a third those of its competitors, in a region which has been one of the most expensive areas to fly from despite the large number of carriers serving a relatively sparse population.

The target market is much the same as Gulf Traveller's, though, particularly expatriates and guest workers visiting home.

For some of those from the Levant it offers a cheap flight rather than the long overland drive through the desert.

But the traffic is likely to be seasonal.

At the last count Air Arabia's first commercial flight was only 10% full.

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