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.

El Al considers adding premium economy seats on new 787-9s as it plans 777 upgrades

El Al CEO Gonen Usishkin has reported the carrier is considering plans to install an additional row of premium economy seating onboard Boeing 787-9 equipment, reports trade title Business Traveller. He also noted plans to reconfigure 777 seating in a similar fashion to that of its 787s, with Zodiac seats in business class.

“Premium is the new kid in town”, Mr Usishkin said, adding: “I feel that trend will continue for the foreseeable future with only minor tweaks”.

The carrier operates eight 787-9 aircraft and will receive a further seven in 2019 and 2020, according to the CAPA Fleet Database.

Emirates opens Emirates Skywards Centre at its Dubai International Airport hub

Emirates Airline has opened the Emirates Skywards Centre in terminal 3 at Dubai International Airport. The new centre will offer a range of services to new and existing members of the Emirates Skywards loyalty programme, such as programme enrolment, profile creation and luggage tag printing. The UAE carrier says it will function as “a one-stop customer touchpoint” for its loyalty scheme customers.

The facility is located at the Departures Level in Concourse B at Dubai International Airport Terminal 3. The Centre is accessible to all current and new Emirates Skywards members departing from and connecting to flights in Terminal 3.

The Emirates Skywards scheme now has over 23 million members. Over the last year, the programme has launched a number of new initiatives such as the ‘My Family’ programme for 100% pooling of miles and new partnerships including co-branded credit cards with leading banks to make travel and rewards more accessible to its members.

Etihad Airways Dec-2018 on-time performance hits eight-year high

United Arab Emirates (UAE) carrier Etihad Airways has reported its strongest on time performance (OTP) in Dec-2018 since levels record at the start of the decade. Across the full year the airline recorded network punctuality of 82% for flight departures and 84% for arrivals.

At its Abu Dhabi International Airport hub, departure punctuality was 80% and arrival punctuality 85%. Across its entire network, the airline completed 99.7% of flights as scheduled in 2018, according to its year-end data.

Iran declares German sanctions on Mahan Air as ‘hasty’ and ‘unjustifiable’

Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Bahram Qassemi has described a decision by the German Government to impose sanctions on Mahan Air as “hasty” and “unjustifiable”. He says the move was based on false information provided by parties who are unhappy with the current relations between the countries and added that the sanctions go “against the mutual interests of both sides and “breaks the spirit of long-standing relations underway between Iran and Germany”.

Mr Qassemi calls on Germany’s government to timely revise “its wrong and undesirable decision”. Upon imposing the sanctions Germany’s Foreign Office reportedly claimed the airline was being used for military purposes by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

On the Beach becomes UK’s first OTA to launch direct integration with Emirates

On the Beach become the UK’s first online travel agent to launch a direct integration with Emirates Airline through Online B2B, the UAE carrier’s NDC API, which has been developed to extend its online brand into travel retailers and ease integration into their own trading platforms.

Having fine-tuned its core business, which has historically focused on short haul holidays, the online travel agent will introduce medium to long haul holidays, which will focus on Dubai and popular Arabian Gulf beach resorts such as Ras Al Khaimah.

The integration will see it offer direct flights to Dubai from eight UK airports, consisting Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, Newcastle and three London airports – Gatwick, Heathrow and Stansted.

News Brief

  • Sulaymaniyah International Airport director Tahir Abdullah has reported the flight ban issued by Iraq’s Civil Aviation Authority has cost the airport revenue of USD5.4 million in the past 12 months, according to media reports. “Due to the Turkish flight ban, Sulaimaniyah airport loses USD15,000 every day” he reportedly said.
  • Gulf Air has signed a special prorate agreement with Royal Air Maroc that will facilitate passengers of both airlines who wish to explore regions not directly served by their home carrier beyond their respective Bahrain International Airport and Casablanca Mohammed V International Airport hubs.
  • IATA, in its Jan-2019 Africa and Middle East regional briefing, reported an EBIT margin of 1.8% for African and Middle East carriers in 3Q2018, down from 5.7% in 3Q2017. The association also reported mixed passenger yield developments across the region’s key markets over the past year. The Middle East-North America and within Middle East markets recorded “solid” yield growth of 9.2% and 6.7% year-on-year, respectively. Middle East-South America remained 10% lower.
  • Etihad Airways and SBI Card have launched a travel specific credit card for Etihad Guest members and Indian travellers. The new credit card offers benefits of up to six Etihad Guest miles per INR100 and Etihad Guest Tier Status. Additional benefits include excess baggage allowance and priority boarding, a 3% to 10% discount on direct Etihad Airways bookings as well as the new Guest +1 voucher.

DATA SNAPSHOT: Middle East LCC Development (2009-2018)Source: CAPA – Centre for Aviation and OAG

Fleet Development

  • Qatar Airways received one new A350-900 (A7-AMH, MSN 211) as recorded by the CAPA Fleet Database. The airline now operates 38 A350s with a further 40 on order.
  • According to re[ports, Pakistan International Airlines plans to dry lease multiple aircraft from Qatar Airways in 2019, including A320 aircraft.
  • flydubai received a new Boeing 737 MAX 8 (A6-FMJ, MSN 60980). The carrier now operates 11 737 MAX 8 aircraft.

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

  • Route Update
  • Andhra Pradesh Airports Development Corporation (APADCL) has issued a tender for the selection of an operator to launch twice weekly Vijayawada-Dubai service in Feb-2019. The deadline for the tender is 11-Feb-2019 and the contract covers a six month term.
  • Turkish Airlines resumed Istanbul-Sulaymaniyah service on 26-Jan-2019, operating daily on the route. It cancelled all scheduled Sulaymaniyah and Erbil services from 29-Sep-2017.
  • Qatar Airways plans operate four times weekly Doha-Hangzhou service with Boeing 777-300ER instead of A330-300 equipment, effective 02-Apr-2019, reports AirlineRoute.
  • SalamAir plans to commence three times weekly Muscat-Alexandria service, effective 02-Mar-2019. The carrier plans to increase frequency to seven times weekly, effective May-2019.
  • Turkish Airlines plans to resume daily Ankara-Baghdad service from 31-Mar-2019, according to the CAPA Route Changes Database. The service is scheduled to operate with Boeing 737-800 aircraft.
  • Oman’s Public Authority for Civil Aviation has approved the operation of Qeshm Air‘s twice weekly Qeshm-Muscat service, effective 05-Feb-2019.
  • Pegasus Airlines plans to launch twice weekly Gaziantep-Erbil service from 14-Feb-2019 and twice weekly Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen-Basrah service from 02-Mar-2019, according to the CAPA Route Changes Database.