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Compared with Europe, few people would describe the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) as a liberal aviation market. Restrictive traffic rights, bureaucratic visa regulations and state aid for flag-carriers conspire to make life immensely difficult for the few private airlines based in the region.
Heavy regulation is particularly burdensome for low-cost carriers (LCCs) as they rely on commercial efficiency and free-market access to unlock new demand among price-sensitive consumers. This explains why most Arab LCCs adopt a hybrid business model that eschews point-to-point flying in favour of hub economics, and replaces no-frills service with a whole host of complimentary perks. Airfares, inevitably, remain higher than average.
The one noteworthy exception is Air Arabia, the privatised flag-carrier of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which was founded in 2003 and now operates 48 Airbus A320s out of ten bases stretching from the Persian Gulf to the Maghreb...