I recently met up with the CEO of Kuwait Airways, Mr. Maen Razouqi in his head office talking about the transformation of the Kuwaiti flag carrier, its transformation on fleet, strategy and future direction.
“Regarding the Airbus A330-800, we overcame the [engine] challenge,” Kuwait Airways CEO Maen Razouqi told Sam Chui´s CEO Talk. Kuwait Airways was the launch customer of the Rolls-Royce Trent 7000 engine-powered A330-800 and received two of the A330neos in October 2020. The airline operates four A330-800s. While the CEO describes the A330-800 passenger feedback as excellent, it was a challenging startup.
The Kuwait City-based carrier formed a Total Care agreement with Rolls-Royce which helped mitigate any risk of missed performance. “The fact is, the lifecycle of the engine is evolving as we speak. But this is an offset, it is a give and take. In the 2022 fourth quarter“. The carrier said it had a very sound, focused engagement with the support of Airbus with Rolls-Royce. “Now we understand the [aircraft] limitations; now we have to design how to make the best out of it“.
We believe the A330-800 will be an enabler for us to get nonstop from Kuwait to North America … it will take us to New York JFK on better margins.Kuwait Airways CEO Maen Razouqi
This route is currently operated nonstop by Boeing 777-300ERs. Kuwait Airways have also seven A330-900s on order, the first of which is scheduled for delivery in the third quarter (Q3) of 2024. The CEO hopes that there are no further aircraft delays. However, on average there are no less than three months of delays, even on smaller aircraft.
“The promise from our partner Airbus is that there should be no delays on that type. We will keep our four A330-800s and will not replace them with the larger variant A330-900, even though the A330-900 will offer a better economical footprint. The -900 will give us the capacity that we need“, he added. Several A330-900s will be configured in high-density configuration, to use on routes like Manila with more economy class seats.
Kuwait Airways Future Fleet
Talking about Kuwait Airways’ future fleet will be based on a 60% narrowbody to 40% widebody ratio. Besides operating A320s and A320neo, the carrier also has six A321neo and three A321LRs on order; the first should arrive as early as the end of 2024. “We are also exploring potential additional aircraft from the market. But this is a separate exercise“.
Razouqi describes the A321LR as a game changer and takes the carrier as far as Manchester probably as far as Bangkok. In 2022, the airline received one A320neos and two A330-800. In 2023, the airline will add two A320neos. “We definitely need to think beyond 2030 sooner than later. We have five B777-300/ERs on lease up to 2029, and five are owned“, he added.
Razouqi also outlines Kuwait Airways' growth strategy which is based on two parts. First on organic growth and the Kuwait market which is about 15 million passengers a year.
“Our capacity today is to serve around five million passengers, so there is a lot for us to tap in. So let’s start building capacity to serve our own. This is very important. Looking at that, we realized our limitation with the number of aircraft and capabilities to the network, or we have an opportunity to be asset-lighter, but have a broader network plan“.Kuwait Airways CEO Maen Razouqi
“We tried to come up with a hybrid. And a hybrid comes with partners specifically who is going to take us to our point-to-point network. And that’s because we knew what the customer wants. If you understand your limitations you understand what the customer is“, he said, adding that the carrier found this hybrid model by itself, specifically selecting a codeshare partner with the likes of Air Europe, ITA, Etihad and Turkish Airlines. Kuwait Airways plans to look for opportunities to expand beyond this.
“By the end of this year, we have our target to reach 60 point-to-point destinations and to have another 100 to take us beyond that with partners“. Razouqi said.
The first part of it was in Q1 2022 and the airline restructured the management by 20%, this has never been done before in the history of Kuwait Airways. “Our fleet would have around 50 aircraft by 2030. We invest lots of money in new onboard products, like new Elite suite, Comfort Plus and Comfort seats on board our Airbus A330-900neo fleet, Limousine Car Service, a new Elite-Lounge etc., innovative on-board-menus, but I don’t want to quantify the amount of money“.
"The future of aviation in Kuwait is very bright, the customer base is here, as much as the demand is high. If you have high demand, you have to tailor your product to fulfill the demand and the customer deserved it." Razouqi said.
You do not need to have 200 aircraft, you need maybe only two aircraft to benchmark efficiency and performance. We want to be the most efficient airline in the world.Kuwait Airways CEO Maen Razouqi
Kuwait Airways' privatization after the new law is on hold. It is a government-owned entity with 100% ownership from Kuwait Investment Authority and the airline has to follow the movement guidance accordingly by its shareholders. "We are definitely open to any expansion of what they wish us to do. I say, don’t compare us to the other regional super hub carriers they have different types of strategies. And a different policy from their governments“.
“We cannot compare ourselves with Emirates or Qatar Airways. For us, we are investing in our customers first. Kuwait market is a big market. We have about five million population. Let us focus on our market, with that aspect, the government is supporting and committing to assist us“.Kuwait Airways CEO Maen Razouqi
Razouqi said the main challenge is to compete with "ourselves“. “We have realized this and launched a modernization program called Beyond Excellence that has 4 main pillars built on ESG, Performance, Customer Experience, and Growth“.
The airline has launched a new uniform for its cabin crew in late January.