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Kuwaiti airline seeks luxury success despite downturn

November 3, 2008

As airlines around the world cut capacity and ground planes, the tiny Gulf state of Kuwait is stepping boldly into the global aviation crisis with the launch of a third carrier.
Kuwait National Airways hasn’t taken delivery of its first plane yet, but when it does, it will be fitted with Recaro luxury leather seats.
Kuwaiti executives will be offered the lowest seat density Airbus A320 in the world, enjoy in-seat entertainment, and be able to use their mobile phones and Blackberrys on board — at least for data to begin with — the airline’s CEO George Cooper told a Reuters summit.
Cooper is betting that the world’s seventh-largest oil exporter will remain an island of prosperity in the midst of a global financial crisis.
“Creating this airline is something that will work in Kuwait,” he said. “I can’t think of many other places in the world where it would.”
With only a business plan, the airline raised nearly $200 million in a 2006 initial public offering. Cooper, a former pilot brought in from British Airways, said it will focus on ferrying businessmen around the region with leased planes, with the first flight expected sometime in January.
The carrier, which will operate under the brand name Wataniya, is benefiting from the plight of airlines around the world as fears of a global recession loom.
It can snap up furrowed pilots from around the world and capitalise on a glut of fuel as planes are grounded in the United States and Europe, Cooper said.
And high fuel costs that have plagued the industry are finally coming down – but that may not be entirely good news for Wataniya.
“Kuwait is a petrodollar economy, so there is a minimal oil price we want to see,” Cooper said.
But as the fate of recently-rescued Kuwaiti lender Gulf Bank shows, the country of 3.2 million isn’t entirely immune from the global crisis.
But even if its economy slows next year and prices for its main export drop, flying around the Gulf in plush leather seats may be too much for some Kuwaitis to resist.

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