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.

  • flyadeal: Saudi Arabia one of the ‘highest, richest’ markets for social media penetration
  • ForwardKeys: Middle East market has ‘anaemic’ growth across first ten months; forward bookings down -2.4% through Jan-2019
  • Qatar Airways Group meets with EU and European Commission members to strengthen relationships
  • ACI World: Middle East passenger market picking up speed since start of 2H2018
  • Jet Airways says reports of Etihad Airways stake increase and financing are ‘speculative’
  • ROUTE UPDATE: latest route launches and announcements
  • DATA SNAPSHOT: Middle East international versus domestic movements (w/c 26-Nov-2018)

flyadeal: Saudi Arabia one of the ‘highest, richest’ markets for social media penetration
flyadeal chief customer and commercial officer Sudeep Ghai stated up to 95% of its sales are generated online, with most of its product launched on a digital platform. He noted up to 80% of the Saudi population is under 40, and spend up to 2.5 hours per day on social media. Saudi Arabia is “one of the highest, richest markets worldwide when it comes to penetration” of media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Mr Ghai added: “[Saudi Arabia] is one of the fastest-growing markets worldwide for social media. People don’t realise this, they think of Saudi Arabia as a conservative market with religion at its core, which it is, but it’s deeply progressive in terms of interaction, partially because it’s socially conservative. People talk and interact on social media”.


ForwardKeys: Middle East market has ‘anaemic’ growth across first ten months; forward bookings down -2.4% through Jan-2019
Research undertaken by data specialist ForwardKeys, which analyses flight booking transactions, reveals “anaemic” travel growth in the Middle East during the first ten months of the year. International arrivals grew just +1% in the period 18-Jan-2018 – 18-Oct-2018, compared with the equivalent period last year, it says. The Spanish company puts the decidedly uninspiring growth mostly down to a slowdown in travel to Saudi Arabia and the ongoing blockade of Qatari airspace by its neighbours. Arrivals from the Americas, Asia Pacific and Europe grew by +5.6%, +3.0% and +2.6% respectively but they fell -2.5% from Africa and the Middle East, its analysis shows. Within the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is identified as “the most important destination by far,” attracting nearly half of all air traffic. It was up +2% but the next two most important destinations, Saudi Arabia and Qatar were down -2% and -7%, respectively. Looking at the blockade of Qatar in more detail, ForwardKeys says the country has suffered particularly badly from a -34.8% drop in arrivals from other Middle Eastern countries, but it has made up for this to some extent with an +8% growth in arrivals from the rest of the world. Looking in to the future, bookings for the Middle East in the next two months (18-Nov-2018 – 10-Jan-2019) are -2.4% behind where they were at the same point last year, identifies ForwardKeys. The cause of this slowdown is bookings from Asia Pacific, which are -11.1% behind where they were at the equivalent point last year (mainly due to the Pakistan market). By contrast, its data shows forward bookings from the Americas, Europe and Africa & the Middle East are all ahead, by +3.1%, +1.0% and +4.3%, respectively.


Qatar Airways Group meets with EU and European Commission members to strengthen relationships
Qatar Airways Group has announced CEO Akbar Al Baker held a series of meetings with European Parliament and European Commission members to strengthen the airline’s relationships with “key MEPs” and to demonstrate its commitment to the EU. Qatar and the EU are close to completing the final stage of the EU-Qatar comprehensive air transport agreement, which will offer both the country and airline “an excellent platform to engage in candid discussions with its European partners on the potential growth and future cooperation between the two parties”.


ACI World: Middle East passenger market picking up speed since start of 2H2018
Airports Council International (ACI) World has reported the Middle East passenger market travel market has been picking up speed since Jun-2018. Regional passengers rose 6.9% year-on-year for Jul-2018, after “surprisingly high” growth of 8.5% Jun-2018. The two strong months boosted the region’s year-to-date growth to 1.7%, up from a 0.8% decline for the year to May-2018.


Jet Airways says reports of Etihad Airways stake increase and financing are ‘speculative’
Indian carrier Jet Airways has stated recent reports claiming that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) flag carrier Etihad Airways is considering plans to increase its 24% shareholding in Jet Airways to more than 35% and provide approximately USD150 million to Jet Airways to enable the airline to cover its immediate working capital requirements are “speculative in nature”. The airline stated it “continues to be in active discussions with various investors to secure sustainable financing to navigate through the current headwinds and create long term growth”.


Route Updates

  • Queen Bilqis Airways has this month launched twice weekly Aden-Amman service. Back in 2016 Yemen’s Government announced the airline planned to commence operations in summer 2017, operating as a LCC.
  • Turkish Airlines plans to deploy Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft daily Istanbul-Muscat service from 27-Oct-2019, according to preliminary schedule information, reports AirlineRoute. The service operates under a codeshare agreement with Oman Air.
  • Pakistan International Airlines launched its inaugural Sialkot-Sharjah service on 20-Nov-2018. The airline will operate the route on a twice weekly basis.
  • Qatar Airways plans to increase Doha-Ho Chi Minh City frequency from 10 to 14 times weekly, effective 31-Mar-2019. The airline is scheduled to operate the service daily with A330-300 and daily with Boeing 787-8 aircraft.
  • Himalaya Airlines increased Kathmandu-Dubai frequency to five times weekly from 19-Nov-2018. Nepal Airlines and flydubai also operate the route, according to OAG.

  • DATA SNAPSHOT: Middle East international versus domestic movements (w/c 26-Nov-2018)Source: CAPA – Centre for Aviation and OAG