Gulf Air open to further partnerships

By Max Kingsley-Jones

Middle Eastern carrier Gulf Air is looking to follow the major expansion of its codeshare deal with oneworld carrier American Airlines with further partnerships outside the region.

The Bahrain carrier in December began a two-phase bolstering of its long-standing codeshare with American to cover US domestic flights operated by the latter. Gulf Air chief executive Bjorn Naf says he is open to more partnerships. "It will be important for European carriers to gain a foothold in the region. Gulf Air is open to discussion about codeshares or even alliances."

The airline is continuing its overhaul by rolling over its ageing Airbus A340-300s this March when the first of four new Boeing 777-300ERs arrives as part of a fleet renewal effort which will also see its oldest A320s retired.

Naf says the leased 777s are among 13 aircraft to be introduced during 2009, the others being five A320s and four A330s. "The ultimate goal is to replace our five oldest A340s, which we will look to sell," he says.

He expects the improved reliability and more modern cabins of the 312-seat 777s to help boost the airline's business in 2009 as it targets an 8% increase in passenger numbers over the "almost six million" carried in 2008.

Naf adds Gulf Air is to begin fuel hedging as part of turnaround efforts, noting last year's fuel-price increases generated a sense of "urgency" for such a policy. Details are still being finalised, but Naf says: "It's a good time to hedge to mitigate risk."

Copyright © 2009 Aviation News Release

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