Inside Air Arabia – The Middle East’s Largest LCC

With aviation news in the Middle East focused on the big three carriers (Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar Airways) it can be easy to miss the dynamic low-cost carrier scene thriving in the region. Founded in 2003, Air Arabia claims the title of the first and largest low cost carrier in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

Inside Air Arabia – The Middle East’s Largest LCC
Air Arabia is a Dubai-based low-cost carrier. Photo: Air Arabia

The Sharjah-based carrier takes its passengers to over 170 destinations scattered throughout the Middle East, North Africa, Asia and Europe. In fact, the airline recently signed a deal with full-service, Abu Dhabi-based carrier Etihad to launch ‘Air Arabia Abu Dhabi’, the capital’s first low-cost carrier.

“Home to the first low-cost carrier in the MENA region, the UAE has developed over the years to become a world-leading travel and tourism hub. We are thrilled to partner with Etihad to establish Air Arabia Abu Dhabi that will further serve the growing low-cost travel segment locally and regionally while capitalising on the expertise that Air Arabia and Etihad will be providing”. -Adel Al Ali, Group Chief Executive Officer, Air Arabia

Fleet and destinations

According to its website, Air Arabia has an All-airbus fleet size of 53. These include A320s (52) and A321Neo LR Aircraft (1). However, other sources indicate that they now operate three A321 aircraft with a plan to lease as many as six. According to Airfleets, the average age of their A320s is five years while the A321s are brand new, having arrived just this year.

From its home base in Sharjah, the airline flies to destinations as far as Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), Nairobi (Kenya), Almaty (Kazakhstan), and Prague (Czech Republic). The airline appears to fly to over 10 cities in India alone.

Furthermore, the airline recently had its inaugural flight to Vienna (Austria) just over a month ago and it looks like the airline will continue its trend of growth and expansion.

Here are more interesting locations Air Arabia serves:

  • Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan)
  • Moscow (Russia)
  • Tunis (Tunisia)
  • Khartoum (Sudan)
  • Kathmandu (Nepal)

Going up against the Emirates group

With the recent Etihad partnership deal, it’s very clear that the airline is trying to keep up with the Emirates-flyDubai partnership.

According to Saj Ahmad, the Chief Analyst at StrategicAero Research, Air Arabia has fallen slightly behind in annual traffic as of 2018. This information comes from an article by AMEInfo. So what is pushing flyDubai ahead of Air Arabia?

“The biggest differentiator now between flydubai and Air Arabia is the former’s links to Emirates and the massive international network that will feed flydubai and that’s before you take into account the roughly 10% passenger growth per annum that flydubai is experiencing…” -Saj Ahmad

Inside Air Arabia – The Middle East’s Largest LCC

Air Arabia now operates the Airbus A321 as part of its fleet. Photo: Air Arabia


With both airlines having a comparable fleet size, with hubs being just a 40-minute drive apart, its clear that flyDubai’s partnership with Emirates is a huge factor in its success. However, it will be interesting to see if the flyDubai’s Boeing 737 MAX situation will allow Air Arabia to actually catch-up or pull ahead of flyDubai! We’ll also have to wait and see how their new Etihad partnership works out.

Have you flown on Air Arabia before? Let us know what the experience was like by leaving a comment as we would be interested to know how it compares with other low-cost carriers in the world and in the region! If you haven’t flown on them before – do you think you would give the airline a try given its extensive network?