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.

Our regular round-up delivers some of the latest key aviation and travel news stories from across the Middle East region.

Qatar Airways acquires 5% stake in China Southern Airlines
Qatar Airways completed an on market purchase of certain A shares and H shares of China Southern Airlines, increasing its total holding of 5% of the total issued share capital of the Chinese carrier. China Southern said Qatar Airways may consider increasing its stake in the airline in the next 12 months. Qatar Airways Group CEO Akbar Al Baker commented: “China Southern Airlines is… an important market player in the world, with massive potential for cooperation in the future”. The investment further supports Qatar Airways’ investment strategy, which includes a 20% investment in IAG, a 10% investment in LATAM Airlines Group, a 49% investment in Air Italy and a 9.99% investment in Cathay Pacific.

El Al to introduce fare families model on Far East and South Africa services from Apr-2019
El Al announced plans to apply the economy class fare families model to Far East and South Africa services from 01-Apr-2019, with ticket sales commencing from 15-Jan-2019. The carrier will offer lite, classic and flex fares. El Al introduced the pricing model for Europe services on 15-Oct-2018. The Lite ticket, a new reduced price product includes a personal item, one piece of hand baggage and a hot meal, the Classic ticket also provide an option of advance seating, checked baggage and change and cancellation options, while Flex ticket offers maximum flexibility on all economy class fares, and increased baggage allowance among its options.

Investment in UAE aviation sector exceeds USD272bn: GCAA director general
UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) director general Saif Mohammed Al Suwaidi estimated total investment in the UAE’s aviation industry, including airport infrastructure and 884 commercial aircraft, reached AED1 trillion (USD272 billion). He said the contribution of the aviation industry the country’s GDP reached 15% in 2018.

Alitalia: Cessation of Rome Fiumicino-Teheran service caused by US embargo of Iran
Alitalia chief business officer Fabio Lazzaerini commented on the decision to cease Rome Fiumicino-Tehran service in late Dec-2018 saying it “was necessary due to the poor prospects of flights caused by the restoration of the embargo against Iran by the US. Iran Air and Mahan Air are the only other carriers operating nonstop between Italy and Iran, according to OAG.

flydubai CEO expects ‘challenging’ conditions, but optimistic about 2019
flydubai CEO Ghaith Al Ghaith said “challenging” conditions due to the strong US dollar and increasing fuel prices are expected to continue in 2019. Looking ahead for this year, he commented: “We remain optimistic about the new year as we continue to invest in our fleet and operations”. Mr Al Ghaith also said: “Our focus will remain on improving our cost performance, broadening our distribution and optimising our network while continuously keeping our cost management plan under constant review”.

Delivery of SSJ100s to Iran ‘out of the question for now’: Association of Iranian Airlines secretary
Association of Iranian Airlines secretary Maqsoud Asadi Samani reportedly said the delivery of Sukhoi SSJ100 aircraft to Iranian carriers “is out of question for now” as Sukhoi is yet to secure approval from the US Office of Foreign Assets Control (PressTV/ILNA, 01-Jan-2019).

News Brief

  • Etihad Airways CCO Robin Kamark projected the Middle Eastern region will experience a “flat” aviation market in 2019 and will not see “significant growth” for some years. Mr Kamark attributed this lack of growth to the “huge supply of capacity” provided by the region’s main operators.
  • Philippine Airlines president Jaime Bautista reiterated the carrier will commence nonstop service to Tel Aviv “within six months” should the Philippines receive an overflight permit from Saudi Arabia.
  • Emirates Airline has reintroduced the ‘My Emirates Pass’ promotion, enabling passengers to access privileges at more than 500 participating retail and leisure outlets in Dubai by presenting their Emirates boarding pass, effective 01-Jan-2019 to 31-Mar-2019.
  • Oman’s Ministry of Transport and Communications has announced Duqm Airport is scheduled to open on 14-Jan-2019.

DATA SNAPSHOT: Middle East weekly system seats (as at 07-Jan-2019)Source: CAPA – Centre for Aviation and OAG

Fleet Development

  • Qatar Airways returned one A330F aircraft (MSN 1350) to lessor BOC Aviation, effective 02-Jan-2019, as recorded by the CAPA Fleet Database. The airline intends to phase out its A330F fleet in favour of Boeing 777F aircraft.
  • Ariana Afghan Airlines received a Boeing 737-500 (MSN 29074), as recorded by the CAPA Fleet Database. The aircraft was previously in service with LAM – Mozambique Airlines.
  • flydubai has received its 10th Boeing 737 MAX 8 (A6-FMH, MSN 60979), as recorded by the CAPA Fleet Database.

CAPACITY SNAPSHOT: Middle East monthly system capacity changesSource: The Blue Swan Daily and OAG

Route Update

  • Etihad Airways upgauged Abu Dhabi-Beijing-Nagoya service, replacing Boeing 787-9 with 787-10 equipment, effective 02-Jan-2019, increasing capacity by 12%.The 787-10 is configured wit h 336 seats, including 32 business and 304 economy class seats.
  • SunExpress Germany plans to launch twice weekly Duesseldorf-Beirut and Stuttgart-Beirut services from 24-Jun-2019.
  • Lion Air reportedly plans to commence Umrah services from Lampung to Madinah and Jeddah in Feb-2019.
  • Saudia plans to deploy Boeing 787-9 aircraft on three times weekly Jeddah-Guangzhou and four times weekly Riyadh-Guangzhou services, replacing 777-300ER aircraft, effective 31-Mar-2019.