(Adds details on plans, destinations, quotes)
By Ulf Laessing
KUWAIT, May 26 (Reuters) - Kuwait National Airways said on Monday it plans to start operations in January, becoming the third carrier in the Gulf state looking to tap aviation traffic growth in the Middle East.
The carrier will operate under the brand name Wataniya Airways — “wataniya” is Arabic for “national” — and start with two Airbus A320 aircraft flying to destinations in the Gulf and wider Middle East, Chief Executive Officer George Cooper told reporters.
Its shares will be listed this year, he said.
“We are now in talks with firms to lease six more aircraft with delivery starting in 2010,” Cooper said. The firm could later buy planes, he said, without elaborating.
Traffic rights are still being negotiated, Cooper said on the sidelines of a shareholder meeting.
The Gulf aviation industry is booming as surging economies spurred by record oil prices attract tourists, business people and workers to the world’s largest oil-exporting region.
Dubai-based Emirates [EMAIR.UL], the United Arab Emirates’ Air Arabia AIRA.DU and Qatar Airways have bought billions of dollars of aircraft from Airbus and Boeing (BA.N) over the years, looking to bring more people to their respective countries, and hub passengers across the globe.
According to a report by the board, Wataniya plans initially to fly to the Saudi cities of Riyadh and Jeddah; Bahrain, Qatar, Dubai, Cairo, Damascus, Beirut and Jordan’s Amman.
German airline Lufthansa (LHAG.DE) helped advise Wataniya on its strategy.
In a second stage, the carrier aims to fly to London, Frankfurt and Paris, as well as the Philippines capital Manila, and Thailand’s Bangkok, according to a report obtained by Reuters and prepared for the shareholder meeting.
The carrier wants to have at least 12 aircraft, including wide-body planes, by 2012, according to the report. Cooper told Reuters the carrier will lease three A320s from Kuwaiti lessor Aviation Lease & Finance Co (Alafco) (ALAF.KW).
Kuwait National Airways — of which Kuwait Projects Co (KPRO.KW) (KIPCO) and other corporate investors own 30 percent stake — intends to list its shares on the Kuwait stock market by year-end, airline Chairman Abdul Salam al-Bahr told shareholders.
It will be the third in Kuwait after loss-making state carrier Kuwait Airways [KA.UL] — which the government wants to sell — and low-cost Jazeera Airways (JAZK.KW).
Only three Middle East airlines are listed: Jazeera, Air Arabia and Royal Jordanian RJAL.AM.
Wataniya wants to focus on business travellers by offering more space on its aircraft than rivals, with 122 seats on its A320s, Cooper said. The A320 can carry as many as 164 passengers, according to Airbus’ website.
Established in 2006 with share capital of 50 million dinars ($188.8 million), Kuwait National Airways sold 70 percent of its stock to the public in the same year.
The firm, which owns several companies — among them United Projects for Aviation Services Co (UPAC.KW) — posted earnings per share of 6.70 fils on revenue of 3.35 million dinars in the 19 months to Dec 31, according to the board’s report. There are 1,000 fils to the dinar. (Editing by Jason Neely)