Shifting Sands – an update on latest developments across the Middle East

The Middle East market has been a story of growth for so many recent years as the development strategies from the likes of Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways has firmly placed the Gulf region on global route maps. But things have got more challenging. Political interference has become a norm, airline strategies have been called to attention and flights have actually been banned between some neighbouring nations across the region.

This weekly round-up delivers some of the key aviation and travel news stories from across the Middle East region.

  • Emirates – Etihad merger would be “remarkably complex transaction”
  • El Al envisions using inflight connectivity technology as a holistic platform
  • India Commerce Ministry pushes for consideration of Dubai request for more flying rights
  • flynas signs partnership with Visa to drive consumer loyalty
  • Etihad Cargo announces freighter network ‘refresh’ from Oct-2018
  • UAE Ministry of Economy seeing an increasing number of visitors from Scandinavia
  • European Commission mandated to negotiate EU-Oman aviation agreement
  • ROUTE UPDATE: latest route launches and announcements
  • DATA SNAPSHOT: The largest LCCs in the Middle East market (data: w/c 24-Sep-2018)

Emirates – Etihad merger would be “remarkably complex transaction”
CAPA – Centre for Aviation executive chairman Peter Harbison believes there is no merit in the reports that claim Etihad Airways and Emirates Airline are engaging in preliminary talks over a potential takeover, pointing out Etihad’s takeover by Emirates would be a “remarkably complex transaction” given the various ownership, “very complex” political and financial issues that would have to be overcome. Each airline operates under fundamental “cluster” strategies, feeding airline activity into their hubs at Abu Dhabi and Dubai in line with the tourism goals of their respective cities. Mr Harbison also referred to the complexity of Emirates’ network structure, saying: “You just have to look at how complex Emirates’ network structure is to see how hard combining the two would be”. Should a merger ever take place, Mr Harbison said the carriers’ respective fleets and orders are “roughly compatible”, although remarking Etihad has its own narrowbody fleet and Emirates has just begun working with flydubai. He also noted Abu Dhabi International Airport is “less than an hour” via car to the new Dubai World Central (Al Maktoum Airport), which could allow a “long term combination” similar to the links between some airport terminals in Europe. With Etihad “floundering” for options going forward however, Mr Harbison said: “As time passes and Etihad fails to find a solution, the pressure mounts”.


El Al envisions using inflight connectivity technology as a holistic platform
El Al entrepreneurship and innovation head Rafi Dabush said El Al envisions using inflight connectivity technology as a holistic platform that improves the inflight experience and other operational and maintenance processes, according to a report. Mr Dabush stated: “We are currently in the process of examining the transmission of the health of the aircraft during flights so the ground operations can be ready when the aircraft land with the right parts and engineers, and thus shortening the aircraft ground time”. El Al is also developing a virtual flight attendant to respond to passenger inquiries submitted from their devices. The carrier also plans to develop digital versions of newspapers and magazines, and enhance online shopping.


India Commerce Ministry pushes for consideration of Dubai request for more flying rights
India’s Commerce Ministry requested India’s Civil Aviation Ministry to discuss the issues of rights between India and the UAE ahead of 15-Oct-2018, when a high-level task force on investments in India meets in Mumbai under the chairmanship of Suresh Prabhu, who is the Minister for both commerce and aviation. Currently, India and Dubai allow airlines from each side to operate a little over 65,000 seats per week, a quota that has been exhausted by carriers from both sides.


flynas signs partnership with Visa to drive consumer loyalty
flynas has signed a partnership with Visa to enhance its nasmiles loyalty programme, as it seeks to leverage Visa’s leadership, data analytics capabilities and digital platforms to drive flynas consumer loyalty. Through this partnership, flynas says it will build a unique and powerful partnership that leverages Visa’s global innovation leadership, cutting-edge data analytics capabilities, strong consulting experience and best in class digital platforms to drive flynas consumer loyalty.


Etihad Cargo announces freighter network ‘refresh’ from Oct-2018
Etihad Cargo announced  a “refresh” of its network from 01-Oct-2018, designed to simplify the network and maximise flows between freighters and bellyhold traffic. The programme involves redeploying freighter capacity on core trade lanes connecting Abu Dhabi with markets in Asia, Europe and the US to meet growing demand. The carrier will suspend services to “a few” destinations, including Nairobi, due to “weakening demand and market behaviours that rendered other core markets more attractive to serve”. The airline will also dedicate an aircraft to ad-hoc charter operations in 4Q2018 to meet seasonal peak demand.


UAE Ministry of Economy seeing an increasing number of visitors from Scandinavia
UAE’s Ministry of Economy stated the Scandinavian travel and tourism market has been a “key destination” for the UAE government in its national tourism agenda. The UAE is seeing an “increasing” number of visitors from Scandinavia, due to the strong bilateral ties between UAE and Scandinavia and the availability of direct flights linking the two regions. The UAE reported 283,000 visitors from Scandinavia in 2017, a 10% increase, representing 1.4% of the total foreign visitors in 2017.


European Commission mandated to negotiate EU-Oman aviation agreement
EU Commissioner for Transport Violeta Bulc has announced via her personal Twitter account that the EU Council granted the European Commission a mandate to negotiate an EU-Oman aviation agreement. “This could generate EUR210 million in economic revenue and give passengers more choice and cheaper tickets”, Ms Bulc explains.


Route Updates

  • Oman Air plans to launch daily Muscat-Athens service in Jun-2019 as the first of several new routes to be launched in 2019, utilising Boeing 737MAX aircraft.
  • China Southern Airlines plans to suspend Shenzhen-Wuhan-Dubai service and instead offer Shenzhen-Dubai twice weekly and Wuhan-Dubai three times weekly, both effective Oct-2018.
  • Etihad Airways plans to operate daily Abu Dhabi-Johannesburg service with Boeing 787-9 instead of Airbus A330-200 equipment, effective 01-Dec-2018 to 20-Feb-2019.

  • DATA SNAPSHOT: The largest LCCs in the Middle East market (data: w/c 24-Sep-2018)Source: CAPA – Centre for Aviation and OAG