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Bahrain’s national carrier is planning to expand its flight network to India, a top official confirmed.
Negotiations are already underway with the Indian government to seek the rights to operate services to several new destinations, said Gulf Air chief executive Samer Majali.
The airline is hoping to introduce the new services with new flights to India next year and the news comes only a day after it announced the launch of services to three cities in Saudi Arabia – Gassim, Yanbu and Taif. Gulf Air already flies to Dammam, Jeddah, Riyadh and Medina.
Services to Taif will begin from January 15, with four flights per week, to Gassim on January 17, with three per week, and to Yanbu from February 15, also with three per week.
“The expansion into these three cities is in line with our strategy to invest heavily in the regional markets and come out strongly as a major regional player,” said Mr Majali.
He said this also meant excellent connections for passengers from Saudi Arabia to Gulf Air’s network in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region and beyond.
“Initially, we will offer four flights every week to Taif and three each to Gassim and Yanbu but would like to expand to daily operations as demand grows,” said Mr Majali.
“The three places are extremely important destinations in several ways.”
Mr Majali said Bahrain shared a centuries-old historical relationship with Saudi Arabia.
“Being Bahrain’s national carrier, we owe it a special place as it has been part of the airline’s history, being one of the first three countries that we began our services to, landing in Dhahran in 1950,” he said.
Mr Majali said the new destinations were part of a plan to identify and serve niche and under-served markets and provide direct services to Bahrain and beyond.
“It is another example of our pioneering tradition, establishing our leadership position as we become the first international airline to fly into Taif, thanks to the co-operation of Saudi authorities in getting necessary permission,” he said.
Mr Majali said Taif was the fourth largest city in Saudi Arabia and also one of the holy cities for Muslims worldwide because of its strategic location between Jeddah and Medina.
“With the Saudi government earmarking a new industrial zone in Taif and the presence of a vast workforce from the Indian sub-continent, the city presents potential opportunities for commercial and tourism growth,” he said.
Mr Majali said the city was one of the most popular holiday resorts in the region because of its location, at 6,000ft, generous rainfall and pleasant year-round climate with mild summers and cool winters.
Mr Majali said Gassim, close to Riyadh and the fifth largest city in Saudi, was home to hundreds of small and medium industries employing thousands of people from the Middle East and Indian sub-continent.
Yanbu is also known as a thriving industrial and port city located in the west of the country.
Gulf Air chief commercial officer Karim Makhlouf said Saudi Arabia had always been a key market.
“With nearly 700 flights per week within the region, our Saudi customers will be able to find a flight to their destination in the shortest possible connecting time via our efficient hub in Bahrain,” he said.