Indian LCC SpiceJet plans to explore a wide range of measures to increase cooperation with Bahraini flag carrier Gulf Air as it seeks ways of increasing its presence in the Gulf.

The MOU follows the announcement by the Indian airline last month that it will set up an LCC in Ras Al Khaimah (RAK), one of the seven constituent emirates of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Under an MOU signed Nov. 20, Gulf Air and SpiceJet will explore several areas of potential cooperation, including an interline and codeshare agreement, coordinated cargo services, engineering services and pilot training.

Gulf Air operates 82 weekly flights between Bahrain and eight Indian destinations. SpiceJet flies to more than 50 cities within India, but is increasingly expanding into international sectors, including Dubai, Muscat and Jeddah.

“The Middle East has always been among our top priority markets,” SpiceJet CEO Ajay Singh said at the MOU signing. “This agreement is going to play a very important role for SpiceJet’s next phase of growth.”

Gulf Air CEO Krešimir Kučko added the agreement would give passengers more options for exploring new destinations.

Once SpiceJet has established its new airline in RAK, it hopes to start services to several European destinations with an initial fleet of around five Boeing 737-800s or 737 MAXs, when the latter is returned to service.

RAK, which has traditionally been considered as something of a backwater at the northern end of the UAE, is becoming increasingly popular as a holiday destination for tourists from Eastern Europe.

Additionally, there is a huge Indian expatriate destination in the Gulf states, which supplies a ready source of traffic for carriers operating between there and India. The limiting factor until now has tended to be strictures on capacity set out in existing bilateral agreements.

SpiceJet’s new airline in RAK will bring the Indian company into direct competition with established UAE LCC Air Arabia, which was designated as RAK’s official carrier following the failure of the short-lived, locally based RAK Airways in 2014.

Alan Dron