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 commits to the Airbus A321neoLR to connect Doha to new developing markets

Qatar Airways has announced that it will convert 10 of its 50 Airbus A321neo on order to the Airbus A321neoLR (long range) variant of the A320 family. It plans to deploy the aircraft to connect Doha to new growing markets where demand is not sufficient for wide body aircraft or where current narrow bodies (A320/A321) are unable to reach.

The new aircraft will be used to provide additional frequencies on existing Qatar Airways routes as well as to possibly substitute for widebodies in some softer markets.

Qatar Airways Group’s chief executive, His Excellency Mr Akbar Al Baker, says the selection of the A321LR, which has extra fuel tanks as well as a higher maximum take-off weight to give the aircraft additional range follows a reassessment of the requirements of its future fleet.

He says the A321LR “will bring the additional capability and range to our existing portfolio of aircraft types that we require to successfully support our global route expansion”.

The first of the A321neoLRs will be delivered in 2020 and as a result will impact the airline’s route development strategy for this year with new routes influenced by the aircraft selection potentially being revealed as early as the coming months.

Etihad Airways partners with Microsoft to launch Artificial Intelligence academy

Microsoft has announced it has partnered with UAE carrier Etihad Airways to launch an AI academy. As part of the academy, Etihad Airways employees will be given access to an online training programme and instructor led classes to drive AI literacy.

Microsoft will also conduct a series of AI business workshops and lab sessions to identify business challengers that can be optimised with AI.

Etihad Aviation Group CEO Tony Douglas said by training its employees to utilise technology powered by AI, the airline will deliver an “enhanced experience” to passengers while giving itself a “competitive edge”.

A320neo delivery delays set to have ‘big impact’ on SalamAir operations

SalamAir CEO Mohammed Ahmed said its second Airbus A320neo aircraft, which was scheduled to arrive in Feb-2019 has been delayed until Apr-2019. The carrier’s third A320neo aircraft has also been delayed until Jun-2019.

Mr Ahmed said the delivery delays will “have a big impact” on the carrier’s “operations” as the “extra aircraft” it had anticipated to arrive “pre summer” will now arrive “post summer”. He further added the carrier will now have to “reduce” its schedule or “find a good deal for a short term wet or dry lease”.

News Brief

  • UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA UAE) has reportedly requested approval from the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority for the operation of 18 frequencies per week between Multan and Dubai.
  • Iraq Civil Aviation Authority signed a memorandum of understanding with Jordan to increase service frequency between the countries. The agreement will include the exchange of experiences, capabilities and available resources to increase services and improve aviation safety, air operations, air navigation and civil aviation legislation in both countries.
  • Qatar Executive commenced operations in Jan-2019 with two Gulfstream G500 executive aircraft. The private jet charter division of Qatar Airways Group will receive an additional five G500s, as well as one G650ER jet in 2019.

DATA SNAPSHOT: Middle East Fleet (as at 04-Feb-2019)Source: CAPA – Centre for Aviation Fleet Database

Fleet Development

  • Etihad Airways received a new Boeing 787-10 (A6-BME, MSN 60759) as recorded by the CAPA Fleet Database. The airline now operates five 787-10 aircraft.
  • Airbus has entered into discussions with Emirates Airline in relation to a contract for A380 aircraft. The UAE carrier signed a MoU with Airbus in Jan-2018 for 36 additional A380s, covering 20 aircraft on firm order and 16 options. It was firmed up in Feb-2018, but no definitive contract has been announced.

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

Route Update

  • flydubai plans to launch five times weekly Dubai-Tashkent service, effective 11-Mar-2019. The carrier plans to operate the route with Boeing 737 MAX 8 equipment and will increase frequency to seven times weekly, effective 31-May-2019.
  • Qatar Airways plans to increase A350-1000 operations on the Doha-London Heathrow route from daily to twice daily, effective 31-Mar-2019, reports AirlineRoute.
  • Aigle Azur plans to resume twice weekly Marseille-Beirut seasonal service from 02-Apr-2019 to 22-Oct-2019. The carrier commenced seasonal service on the route in 2018, according to OAG.
  • SCAT Airlines is conducting work on the launch of scheduled, nonstop Kazakhstan-Saudi Arabia service from spring 2019.
  • Turkish Airlines confirmed plans to launch daily Istanbul-Sharjah service from 05-Apr-2019, adding to its Dubai, Al Maktoum (cargo service) and Abu Dhabi flights into the UAE.
  • Pakistan International Airlines plans to commence twice weekly Peshawar-Sharjah service from 21-Feb-2019.