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.

Emirates and flydubai codeshare has helped reduce route overlaps and allowed the realignment of schedules to common destinations

The strategic partnership between Dubai’s two leading carriers, Emirates Airline and flydubai, continues to open up the world for travellers since its launch 14 months ago, and is set to grow even further in 2019 with new codeshare destinations to be added.

In the last calendar year (2018) the two airlines have jointly carried 3.29 million customers on codeshare flights across 84 destinations. Currently, Emirates customers can access 67 additional destinations through flydubai’s network, while flydubai customers have 115 additional destinations they can travel to on Emirates network, but that is soon set to grow.

The partnership, which came into effect at the end of October 2017, has since delivered a number of benefits to both airlines’ customers, such as offering greater global connectivity through more destination choices, flexibility with flight options when planning trips, one integrated loyalty programme, and the convenience of travelling on a single ticket with seamless point to point baggage handling.

Initially starting with codeshare flights to just 29 cities, it has since expanded to 84, including new flydubai destinations such as Catania, Krakow, Dubrovnik and Helsinki. During 2019 the network of codeshare flights will be further expanded, with the launch of new flydubai destinations Naples and Budapest, and further network growth is expected this year.

The airlines confirm “several other” destinations “will be announced in due course”. flydubai has also recently restarted flights to Chittagong, from 20-Jan-2019, while flights to Kozhikode, Kerala, will start from 1-Feb-2019. Currently, the combined networks of Emirates and flydubai is 216, which by 2022, is expected to reach 240 destinations.

Also, since Dec-2018, 11 flydubai flights have been operating from Terminal 3 at Dubai International Airport to help improve the connections. These are Belgrade, Bishkek, Bucharest, Catania, Helsinki, Krakow, Mineralnye Vody, Prague, Rostov-on-Don, Salalah and Zagreb. During this year, more flights, including Naples and Budapest, will be departing from Terminal 3, further improving the connection experience for customers.

Kurdistan Region Government holds talks with British Airways on establishing direct UK connectivity

Kurdistan Regional Government’s high representative to the UK, Karwan Jamal Tahir, has revealed via his own official social media accounts that he has held meetings with British Airways in London on the establishment of direct services connecting the UK and the Kurdistan Region.

Mr Tahir said British Airways will evaluate the proposal and is could launch services in mid 2020 if it decides to enter the Kurdish market. The autonomous region of Iraq is currently served by two international airports, Erbil International Airport and Sulaymaniyah International Airport.

Etihad takes flight with locally produced sustainable fuel

Etihad Airways has operated the world’s first flight using fuel made in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) from saltwater grown plants, a major milestone in developing a comprehensive sustainable aviation fuel value chain. The project supports the UAE’s diversification plans and commitment to sustainability and is based around producing jet fuel using an innovative agricultural process using desert land and sea water.

Approximately 160,000 passenger flights have already flown on a blend of sustainable and traditional jet fuel since the first biofuels were certified for commercial use in 2011. Sustainable aviation fuel represents a significant opportunity to help aviation meet its goals to cap the growth of carbon emissions by 2020 and cut levels to half of what they were in 2005 by 2050.

The Etihad flight from Abu Dhabi to Amsterdam on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner marked a major milestone in the development of a clean, alternative aviation fuel to reduce carbon emissions. The initiative also addresses food security in the UAE through the farming of seafood as a core element in the process.

Sustainable fuel for the flight was derived from oil in Salicornia plants, which were grown on the two-hectare SEAS farm in Masdar City. The SEAS is the world’s first desert ecosystem designed to produce fuel and food in saltwater. Fish and shrimp raised at the facility provide nutrients for the plants as well as contribute to the UAE’s food production.

Using sustainable feedstock to produce the fuel significantly reduces life-cycle carbon dioxide emissions compared to fossil fuel. The biofuel is blended directly with jet fuel and does not require any modifications to aircraft, engines or airport fuelling delivery systems. Over the course of the next few years, the system is expected to scale up to 200 hectares in the move towards full-scale commercial implementation.

News Brief

  • Emirates Airline has issued changes to its baggage allowance for economy passengers with those flying on Special and Saver tickets having their baggage allowance reduced by 5kg to 15kg and 25kg respectively. The new rules will be effective 04-Feb-2019. Flex and Flex plus baggage allowances will remain unchanged.
  • Qatar Airways Group CEO Akbar Al Baker has said that with India becoming the fourth largest civil aviation market after the United States of America (USA), China and Japan, it is “a crucial market for Qatar Airways”. The airline currently operates 102 weekly flights between Doha and 13 destinations in India, including Ahmedabad, Amritsar, Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Goa, Hyderabad, Kochi, Kolkata, Kozhikode, Mumbai, Nagpur and Thiruvananthapuram.
  • Kuwait’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) president Sheikh Salman Sabah Al-Salem Al-Humoud Al-Sabah has revealed that an investment of USD20 billion should be made in the next 10 years to develop and modernise Kuwait’s civil aviation sector.
  • Oman Air has received level 3 New Distribution Capability (NDC) certification from IATA. Its CEO Abdulaziz Al Raisi said the certification will enable the airline to “improve sales of ancillaries” through its direct channels.

DATA SNAPSHOT: Middle East weekly seat split (as at 21-Jan-2019)Source: CAPA – Centre for Aviation and OAG

Fleet Development

  • Iran Aseman Airlines created a piece of history when it retired its Boeing 727 aircraft (EP-ASB, MSN 1603) from operation on 13-Jan-2019. The aircraft is the world’s last 727 to operate commercial passenger service.

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

Route Update

  • Emirates Airline has confirmed it will deploy A380 equipment on one of three daily Dubai-Amman frequencies, effective 01-Jun-2019 to 26-Oct-2019 “to better serve the summer peaks” in the market.
  • IndiGo reportedly plans to commence daily Kannur-Doha service on 15-Mar-2019, a market already served by Air India Express, according to OAG.
  • Iran Airports and Air Navigation Company has announced Taban Air plans to launch a twice weekly Tehran-Bojnourd service.
  • Oman Air has extended its six times weekly Muscat-Malé service until Apr-2019. The carrier operates the service with Boeing 737 MAX 8 equipment.
  • Air India Express plans to increase Surat-Sharjah frequency from twice to three times weekly, effective 01-Apr-2019.
  • Saudiaplans to launch four times weekly Riyadh-Athens service, effective 02-Jun-2019 using Airbus A320 equipment, according to AirlineRoute.