By Alexander Cornwell
DUBAI (Reuters) - Bahrain's loss-making national carrier Gulf Air will offer a premium service to try and increase passenger numbers, its chief executive said on Wednesday.
The airline has been loss-making for years, forcing it to lay off staff as rivals such as Emirates and Qatar Airways dominate the Middle East.
In an effort to revive its fortunes, Gulf Air wants to carve out a niche as a 'boutique' airline, its chief executive said on Wednesday.
The strategy means it will expand its destinations and number of aircraft with an economy class more spacious than rivals and a 'luxury' business class product.
"We are working in a highly competitive environment," Kresimir Kucko told Reuters in a phone interview.
Gulf Air could add around eight destinations and expects to carry around 5.8 million passengers this year, Kucko said, declining to give further details at this stage. The airline launched eight new routes last year, mostly to other cities in the Middle East. It carried over 5.3 million passengers in 2018.
Over the next few years, Gulf Air's network will add more cities in Europe, the Middle East, and the Indian Ocean before launching flights to the United States and China, Kucko said.
Around 75 percent of all seats are expected to be filled this year, Kucko said, the same as 2018.
Gulf Air will take delivery of two Boeing Dreamliner 787-9s and five Airbus A320neos this year after receiving five Dreamliners and two A320neos in 2018.
The airline has 39 aircraft on order, including a contract for Airbus A220s which Gulf Air signed when it was the Bombardier CSeries.
Kucko said the airline was still deciding on taking delivery of those aircraft.
"It needs to be thoroughly evaluated and analysed," he said.
(Reporting by Alexander Cornwell; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)
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